OFFSHORE renewables projects in the UK are facing barriers due to the strict new immigration rules from the Home Office, a lawyer at a top international legal firm has warned.

The Tory government’s “extremely complex” visa rules risk putting further strain on the offshore wind sector, increasing project budgets and even delaying deadlines, according to Maria Gravelle, an immigration specialist at Pinsent Masons.

Gravelle said that the end to the Offshore Wind Worker Concession (OWWC) – which was brought in by the UK Government in 2017 but ended earlier in 2023 – was set to cause problems for the sector.

“Without an appropriate fix, the UK will become increasingly undesirable for skilled offshore workers and their employers,” she said.

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The time-limited OWWC previously allowed “the employment of foreign nationals who are joining vessels engaged in the construction and maintenance of offshore wind projects in UK territorial waters”.

The concession ended in April, and Gravelle has wanted that major disruption for the industry could follow, given that the majority of offshore crews are made up of non-British and Irish nationals.

Gravelle said: “The knock-on effects are significant and were predictable. Visas themselves can be extremely costly and the extra red tape and administrative burden on employers is impacting on project budgets, skewing tenders for new developments and in some cases could even delay work scopes.

“Offshore workers coming into UK waters have an extensive range of certifiable skills and there is a shortage of the required certifications in the UK job market. These workers pose a low risk to UK immigration control as, for tax purposes, they do not want to be based in the UK long-term.”

The National:

Gravelle (above) further said that employers’ sponsoring costs can run into “thousands of pounds per person” in visa fees and other charges for workers – who may only need to enter the UK for a few weeks a year on a specific project.

There is also a lack of clarity on which employer or contractor in the supply chain should take responsibility for sponsorship and visa clearance when crews are contracted externally.

Gravella said that tailored immigration arrangements are urgently required to resolve the recruitment bottleneck.

She suggested that a solution could be a sector-specific route, as was previously brought in to address shortages of workers such as HGV drivers.

Pinsent Masons is a multinational law firm with more than 450 partners and 3300 people working in 26 offices around the world.

The Home Office has been asked for comment.