The Home Office has announced a further extension to the offshore wind workers concession until 31 October this year. However, the Home Office has warned this extension will be the last. It means employers currently relying on the concession to bring workers into the UK will need to take steps to regularise the immigration position of those workers if they plan to continue to employ them beyond 31 October.
The concession was first announced in June 2017 and has been routinely extended by the Home Office since then. Under the terms of the concession foreign national workers are permitted to enter the UK for the purposes of employment on vessels engaged in the construction and maintenance of offshore wind projects in UK territorial waters, so within a 12-mile limit. As the government’s website makes clear, this is the final extension for this concession, and it will not be renewed beyond this date. That means all foreign nationals coming to the UK to work in UK waters, including on a wind farm, will need permission to work in the UK before starting work.
The withdrawal of the concession is a concern for the renewables sector given its projected growth in offshore wind. In May the Offshore Wind Industry Council published its Skills Intelligence report predicting that the number of jobs in the sector is expected to increase to almost 100,000 by the year 2030, a rise of more than 300%. It follows employers in this sector are going to need to look ahead and plan carefully to ensure they have the workforce they need for these projects going forward.
So, let’s hear more about this final extension of the concession. Maria Gravelle is an immigration specialist. I asked her about the significance of this being the final extension we’re going to see offered by the Home Office:’
Maria Gravelle: “The concession allows workers who are working on offshore wind projects, whether inside or outside UK territorial waters, to do so without necessarily needing any other type of immigration permission. Now that that concession is, in October, likely coming to an end definitively, workers who work in this area are going to need to find alternative arrangements to regularise their status in the UK and ensure that they do have the permission, before they travel to the UK, to carry out the activities that they're going to do. Now, the alternatives are going to be quite subjective to the individual. So for example, many European nationals who have been travelling back and forward to the UK for many years doing this type of work could be eligible for schemes such as the EU Settlement Scheme, although that has now closed or, more likely, the Frontier Worker Permit which is still open for applications. So those routes might be available to some people who are EEA citizens but if you're not going to meet the eligibility criteria for those routes then there are other alternatives, the main one being sponsorship as a skilled worker.”
Joe Glavina: “So what should employers be doing before October to plan for the end of this concession? Plan ahead, I guess, but what does that involve?”
Maria Gravelle: “Yes, employers should absolutely use this time to plan ahead, just to avoid any operational delays as a result of staff not having the correct visas to enter the UK. I mentioned the Frontier Worker Permit applicants can apply for that, it's free to apply, so the advanced preparation is fairly minimal, but the processing time for those types of visas can be running into several weeks. Similarly, with sponsorship-based routes, like the skilled worker visa, there is quite a significant amount of advanced planning that has to be done. If the organisation for example, does not have a UKVI sponsor licence it would need to apply for one and that process in itself, if you pay the standard fee, can take eight weeks to reach a decision and that's before we've even factored in the time that it takes to actually prepare the application. After that eight week processing time the individual would then need to go through their own process to apply for a skilled worker visa. Outside of the UK applications generally take three weeks to reach a decision but for the past few months we have been seeing very significant delays on the Home Office’s part. So all of this would need to be factored into the employers planning process and leaving it to the last minute, as we can see from these processing times, could potentially cause very significant delays. So with this extension we are encouraging employers to use the time between now and October to consider what immigration routes their staff are eligible for, consider whether or not they need to apply for a sponsor licence, and actually take the steps to submit that application and, potentially also, submit applications for their staff members as well.”
It was in May that the OWIC published its Skills Intelligence report. If you’d like to read it for yourselves you can – we have put a link to it in the transcript of this programme.