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UK visa requirements for offshore workers

09 August 2023

Employers of workers within 12 nautical miles of the UK landmass must ensure that appropriate UK right to work is in place, and may be required to notify the Home Office of workers arrival in, and departure from, UK waters. All individual workers employed within the 12 nautical miles need a visa unless they are a British or Irish citizen, and are also subject to notification requirements.

In this article we provide an overview of the requirements to be aware of when offshore workers are employed in UK waters.

Who is an offshore worker?

An offshore worker is any person who arrives to work in UK waters, without first entering the UK.

‘UK waters’ are the UK territorial sea (the sea within 12 nautical miles of the UK landmass), and any other waters within the seaward limits of the territorial sea. The UK landmass edges are determined by admiralty maps which will include features such as sandbanks. This may mean the 12 nautical miles is extended more than first appreciated.

A non-British/Irish citizen does not require a UK visa to work on a fixed structure such as an oil rig on continental shelf, outside the 12 nautical mile zone. They do however require permission for when they are on shore leave in the UK.

When does an offshore worker need UK immigration permission to work?

Unless the offshore worker is a British or Irish citizen, they must have appropriate UK immigration permission which includes the right to work in the job they will be undertaking in UK waters.

What kinds of immigration permission might be appropriate for offshore workers?

An offshore worker may hold or be eligible to apply for permission under the Immigration Rules that includes a right to work in the job they will be carrying out, for example under a family route.

They may require sponsorship under a work route, such as Skilled Worker or Senior or Specialist Worker.

A seafarer working on a vessel in UK waters may do so as a visitor, provided they are on a genuine international route delivering or collecting goods or passengers, and meet certain other specific criteria.

There is a recognised concession for offshore well boat workers. A previous concession for offshore wind workers was withdrawn on 23 May 2023, meaning that these workers must apply for permission under the Immigration Rules.

What are the notification requirements for offshore workers?

Since 12 April 2023, an offshore worker must notify the Home Office of the date they first arrive in UK waters, and the day they leave. The notification must be made no earlier than the date of the relevant event, and no later than 10 working days after.

If the worker is sponsored, the sponsor must make notifications at the beginning and end of the job the worker is sponsored to do, otherwise the individual must make notifications directly, each time they physically arrive and leave.

Details of how to make the notifications is set out in the Home Office’s guidance on offshore workers.

What considerations are there for employers of offshore workers?

Some considerations for employers include the following:

  • Ensuring that an appropriate sponsor licence is in place if it is foreseen that sponsorship will be required for workforce members who will be working offshore;
  • Making an assessment for each offshore worker, to understand whether they have the right to work under existing immigration permission, or if sponsored immigration permission or other permission is required;
  • Budgeting for the cost of obtaining immigration permission for sponsored workers as part of the operational cost of offshore operations and projects, including when tendering for work;
  • Considering where crew are physically located, and ensuring any location requirements for applying for immigration permission are met; and
  • Advance-planning to allow sufficient time for immigration applications to be processed ahead of the work starting.

Meeting the immigration requirements for offshore workers can be complex and should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. If you require assistance, please get in touch with a member of our Immigration Team.

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