It might seem obvious that shipping operators and seafarers working in and around UK waters have no need to fear Somalian pirates. But that’s not just because 5,547 nautical miles and the Suez Canal lie between! In all likelihood the pirates would struggle to figure out what kind of visa they need for their pirating activities as UK Immigration Law in the area is at best foggy! This blog is intended as the first point of reference not only for Somalian pirates but also for any seafarers or offshore workers destined to come to work in or around UK waters.
The first thing to note is exactly where UK waters are. Let’s imagine for a second that we’re on a boat 11 miles off the UK coast, the rain’s battering into your face, the boat’s rocking side to side and you’re starting to wonder if it definitely is July and all this is happening right there in UK Territorial Waters. Now let’s imagine again that you’re on a different boat 13 miles off the UK coast, the gulls are squawking overhead, the Ship’s Master is holed up in the bridge with a nice cuppa tea and the rain is still battering into your face. Yet you are now on the UK Continental Shelf!
Hopefully you see where we’re going with this. UK Territorial Waters are limited to 12 miles offshore. Beyond that you’re on the UK Continental Shelf, the 200 mile zone where UK sovereignty relates only to the exploitation of natural resources.
So I suppose you’re now thinking “simple, within 12 miles need a visa, beyond 12 miles don’t need a visa”. Sorry to say sailor that you’re not so lucky. There are three areas of UK Immigration Law that govern UK waters; Offshore Worker Visas, Crewmember (to join ship) Visas and the Points Based System.
Offshore worker visas are for those grizzly-looking folks who work out at sea beyond the horizon. The UKBA defines off shore work as “employment on oil, gas and other installations fixed to the seabed that are wholly at sea on the UK Continental Shelf.”
To enter the UK for offshore work you require either entry clearance or approval on arrival at the UK Border. Which one you need is based on whether or not you are a ‘visa national’. You can find this out here. However if you’re coming to the UK as an offshore worker for more than 6 months and plan to stay here when you’re not offshore you have to apply for entry clearance in your country of residence before travelling to the UK.
If you work on a ship on the UK Continental Shelf then Offshore Worker visas are not for you. What you need is a Crewmember (to Join ship) visa. UK Immigration Law defines “crew” as all persons actually employed in the working or service of a vessel operating only in international waters (including the UK Continental Shelf).
Now this is all fine and well if you work on a ship that only works in international waters but what if your ships spends a large proportion of its journey within UK Territorial Waters? This means that the UKBA expect you to enter the UK under Tier2 of the Points Based System as a sponsored migrant worker. “Sounds easy enough” I hear you say! Well sorry to be the bearer of bad news but it is actually impossible. Yet again the Home Office and UK Border Agency have arbitrarily applied one rule to the entire population of inbound non-EEA workers. From 14 June 2012 all new applicants have to be applying for a job with a UK Border Agency Code of Practice at or above Level 6 on the National Qualifying Framework. Unfortunately the Code of Practice for Ship and Hovercraft Officers is only at Level 4. In real terms what this means is that the Home Office have closed the door on many new work visa applicants working as officers or employees on ships and hovercrafts in UK Territorial Waters.
However all is not lost, there are some exceptions to the rules and we’re here to help you try and figure out what your options are. It may be that there are other options under the points based system or perhaps you’re eligible for a Crew (to join) Ship visa. Whether you’re an employer looking for a solution or a seafarer starting to feel a little marooned just pick up the phone and chat to one of our advisors.