Fragomen: Immigration strategy for UK energy industry

By Kathleen O’Donnell, Fragomen

Kathleen O’Donnell is a senior manager at Fragomen
Kathleen O’Donnell is a senior manager at Fragomen

The predicted ramp up of activity in the North Sea will, as ever, lead to the need to source more skilled workers.

Employers and agencies need to know what options are open to them when it comes to hiring the appropriate staff – European or non-European – for onshore or offshore roles.

Employers have found that some personnel from the EU that they used to recruit before Brexit have not applied for EU Settled Status, which allows them to work here for any employer and leads to settlement.

The scheme is now closed, although the Home Office does accept late applications in exceptional circumstances. This means that recruiters are coming across those who haven’t yet applied but may not have the exceptional reasons needed so are unable to make a late application, meaning knowledge of other options is key.

Available options
With the different options available, it can be difficult to decide which one is most appropriate for your business – particularly when you have just won a contract with an imminent start date and want to bring a cohort of specialists to deliver it, or to train local people to do so.

Many of the issues we have helped with recently stem from businesses who have won such contracts – for example in the Scottish infrastructure sector where piping, welding and engineering specialists were required to support contract delivery.

The management tiers are in place, but it’s clear from our engagement with these companies that they need additional workers – ones with the right skills to deliver projects. And they need them sooner rather than later.

Here is a summary of the options available – dig deeper and you will find pre-travelled routes successfully used by many employers:

Timing is of the essence – the initial Sponsor Licence application and subsequent visa applications can all take time so good planning is key to keep the process moving forward apace.

UK Sponsor Licence – a UK sponsor licence is the first step to hiring and issuing sponsorship to both EEA and non-EEA nationals, under the new UK immigration system – once you have applied for this one-off application, you can then sponsor migrants in the Inter-company transfer and Skilled Worker categories.

Inter-Company Transfer Visa – suitable for short term, project-based roles. Although it can be granted for up to 5 years (or 9 depending on salary), it doesn’t lead to settlement. The employee must have worked in an overseas entity connected to the licence for at least 12 months unless the higher salary level is paid.

Skilled Worker Visa – suitable for many types of hire – leads to settlement after 5 years; must have passed an approved English test or via a university degree unless they are a national of a majority English speaking country.

Offshore Wind Workers Concession – Leave granted only until 1 July 2022 when concession ends.

Offshore Worker Visa – allows the holder to live in the UK but not to work onshore or in UK territorial waters (defined as the area of sea extending 12 miles from the baseline).

Frontier Worker Visa – the ideal commuter visa; employee must be from the EU, living outside the UK and have started working in the UK by 31 December 2020.

Visitors – only allowed to undertake certain activities in limited circumstances. This route may work for you for short visits and certain provisions may allow a field engineer to come and install or maintain a piece of equipment for you, for example.

Permission to work in their own right – employees may qualify in their own right, for example, by being married to a British citizen or someone who already holds permission to work.

Immigration support
To help fathom the depths of these routes and find the most suitable routes for the staff they need at the wheel, many energy companies are seeking an immigration partner that understands the market and has the reach to handle large-scale projects.

We provide tailored immigration support, including assisting with visa applications for employees and their families, specialist compliance advice and regular client briefings, alerts and events.

While finding the right staff has always been an issue for companies, it’s important to remember talented personnel from further afield can be sourced – provided you comply with the rules by having the right professional support and advice.

Kathleen O’Donnell is a senior manager at Fragomen, a global immigration firm. O’Donnell, who has been working in immigration for 22 years, advises companies and individuals on the best routes to bring people to the UK or retain them here. She has worked with several energy companies.