Big changes to UK visas in the maritime industry – Guidance on the regulations

In 2017, the UK Government introduced a temporary Offshore Wind Workers concession which allowed some foreign workers to enter the country to join a vessel engaged in the construction and maintenance of wind farms within UK territorial waters without giving any notice. The concession expired on 30 April 2023. This means that migrant workers involved in offshore wind projects in UK territorial waters now require work visas in the same way as all other non-exempt offshore workers. Read our guidance notes here on what this means for UK employers and overseas workers affected.

What is an offshore worker?

Under the Immigration Act 1971 section 11A an ‘offshore worker’ is someone who arrives in UK waters to work without entering through UK landmass first. This include people who arrive in UK waters while working as crew members of a ship passing through or transiting the territorial sea or from non-UK waters to the UK or vice versa.

UK waters

UK waters are defined as 12 miles from the UK coastline, and UK immigration control is applied within these areas. Inland waters are also included.

This is not to be confused with UK Continental Shelf (UKCS), a 200 mile area of waters surrounding the UK including parts of the North Sea, North Atlantic, Irish Sea and English Channel.

Outside UK territorial waters a work visa isn’t required. In some cases a ‘transit visa’ is applicable.

Recent developments

Section 43 of the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 came into force in April 2023. This  means individuals arriving in UK waters to work in are now considered as having entered the UK when they start working, despite not having disembarked on land.

As a result Skilled Worker visa sponsorship now applies to many employees working in UK waters. In addition to meeting the onerous duties and requirements to apply for and maintain a sponsor licence, employers (and even some non-sponsored workers) must notify the Home Office when the worker first arrives in UK waters at the beginning of the sponsored job and when they leave the sponsored job. It is essential that the notification is made:

  • No earlier than the date the worker arrives in or leaves (whichever is relevant) UK waters; and
  • No later than 10 working days after the date the worker arrives in or leaves (whichever is relevant) UK waters.

In most instances a sponsor would report this to the Home Office using the online Sponsorship Management System (SMS). However, it is not currently possible to do this. Instead notifications are currently made via a dedicated offshore worker notification email inbox.

What offshore workers don’t need a visa?

Well Boat Workers: Under the Offshore Well Boat Workers concession, foreign nationals working for approved companies on fishing vessels designed to carry live fish in a tank or well (well boats) can work in UK territorial waters visa free until February 2024.

Seafarers: The visitor rules were amended on 12 April 2023. Working as seafarer is included in the list of permitted activities for visitors to the UK. This means they are not affected by the above changes to the Skilled Worker route for offshore workers.

Seafarers will need to demonstrate they are delivering or collecting goods or passengers on a vessel on a genuine international route between a port in the UK and a port outside the UK. They can call at a maximum of 10 UK ports in a 60-day period before travelling to a port outside the UK. They can also receive payment from a UK source.

What should employers affected do next?

These policy changes have a significant impact on the maritime industry, impacting on a wide range of employers. Companies must review their current staff as many will now need a UK work visa to continue working in UK waters. Failure to obtain the correct visa could result in breaches of immigration law and potential liability for huge fines.

Mandie Sewa / Head of Immigration / Brevis Law

To discuss how Brevis’ Immigration team can support your organisation, contact Mandie via an initial consultation.


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