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Immigration Law Essentials: Maritime Business

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The UK is home to a wide variety of maritime and sub-sea businesses, from the pleasures of cruise ships to the engineering tech of oil exploration. How can you make the most of the UK’s immigration laws, to develop international talent and investment in these areas?

Permission to work

It is important to understand when the UK’s immigration laws apply to your business. People from outside the European Economic Area (“EEA”) will usually need specific immigration permission to take employment in the UK. This includes voluntary work, unpaid internships, and remote working. If you employ someone without the proper permission then you may be liable to pay a civil penalty of up to £20,000.

Definitions: “off-shore” and “seafarers”

People who work on ships docking at UK ports, or on installations off shore, are often treated under special categories of immigration law.

“Off-shore” workers are people working on installations such as oil or gas rigs, fixed to the sea bed on the UK Continental Shelf (“UKCS”). However, this category does not cover people on ships (for example, oil exploration vessels).

All people travelling by sea are “seafarers”. This may include “contract seamen” who are employed to work on a specific vessel for a specific period, and “crew” working aboard a ship. On a cruise ship this might include staff such as stewards, bar staff and croupiers. On an oil vessel, it might mean divers, or surveyors.

Immigration options

It is always worth asking whether your proposed employee is the family member of an EEA national, as this can give them the rights to live and work in the UK under European law, and without having to satisfy the more stringent requirements of the Immigration Rules. Some options for workers who do need a visa are as follows:

Off-shore workers benefit from a special concession to allow them to base themselves in the UK with their dependants so that they can work shifts on an installation, and then take leave in the UK if this is required. For people who would not usually need a visa for visiting the UK (“non-visa nationals”) then a visa is only required for off-shore postings of more than 6 months. Other nationals do require a visa before travelling to the UK.

Crew members and contract seamen can enter the UK if their object is to leave again with their ship. A transit visa is required for non-visa nationals, except for people holding a document issued by a country which has ratified the 1958 International Labour Organisation (ILO) seafarers’ identity documents convention No. 108.

Other professionals who will be based in the UK will need to apply for a visa or leave to remain in dedicated work category. The most common route is for a UK employer to sponsor a skilled worker under Tier 2 of the Points-Based System. A number of relevant jobs, such as “subsea engineer”, “geoscientist” and “electrical engineer in the oil and gas industry” are considered “shortage occupations”, which benefit from an accelerated application process. Other graduate-level jobs can still be filled under Tier 2 if recruitment processes have not yielded suitable local applicants. International companies can also transfer employees to the UK using the “Intra-Company Transfer” sub-category.

Depending on the nature of your business, the Tier 1 Entrepreneur or Representative of an Overseas Business visas could also help you to set up in the UK.

If you would like to know more about the UK’s immigration laws for this sector, please contact Kitty Falls at our Southampton office.