The Home Office will allow migrants to work on offshore wind farms without UK visas in an ‘11th hour’ U-turn. However, the last-minute decision to extend the visa waiver has been blasted by MPs and the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) Workers’ Union. Karl Turner, the MP for Hull East, described the U-turn as a ‘further blow for UK seafarers’.
He said: “The offshore wind sector is a growing industry and it is vital that British seafarers can compete fairly for these jobs. We have a good number of seafarer ratings in my own constituency in east Hull that are unable to compete for these jobs due to being unfairly undercut by foreign non-EU seafarers paid much lesser exploitative rates of pay.”
“The government needs to end this exploitation immediately and give our own skilled British seafarers the opportunity to compete for these jobs,” Mr Turner added.
Meanwhile, the Home Office has also been slammed for ‘causing confusion’. Back in January, amid the launch of a new look UK immigration system for the post-Brexit era, wind farm operators were advised to start preparing their existing migrant workforce for tougher visa rules.
Under the Offshore Wind Workers Concession (OWWC), migrants working on offshore wind projects in UK territorial waters are exempt from needing a UK work visa. The exemption was set to expire on 1 July. However, on 2 July, the Home Office issued a notice extending the scheme for a further 12 months.
In an official statement, the Home Office said: “The concession is outside of the Immigration Rules and applies to workers essential to the construction and maintenance of wind farms within UK territorial waters.”
The extended concession will grant foreign nationals continued leave to enter the UK up until 1 July 2022. The Home Office said: “The concession will apply to workers joining a vessel engaged in the construction and maintenance of a wind farm in UK territorial waters.”
Extended on several occasions
The OWWC scheme, which was launched in 2017, has been extended on several occasions during its short existence. Back in January, ahead of the new, post-Brexit UK immigration system becoming law, the Home Office warned of its intention to end the concession scheme, and put employers on alert to review the immigration status of their workforces.
Many wind farm operators invested time, resources and money to ensure they were fully prepared for the new UK immigration system.
The concession has faced heavy criticism in the past, particularly from unions, which argue that it takes away jobs from British seafarers while allowing wind farm operators to recruit cheap foreign labour.
Unions have claimed that foreign workers are heavily exploited, often working 12 hours a day or more for less than the UK minimum wage. It’s been claimed that some are working for less than £4-an-hour.
No temporary visas for EU lorry drivers
News of the OWWC scheme being extended comes after trade union, Unite, which protects worker rights, equality and diversity in the workplace, urged the UK government not to issue EU lorry drivers with temporary UK visas to plug chronic HGV driver shortages.
Instead, the union called on the logistics industry to increase driver pay rates to solve the crisis.
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