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Immigration Issues for the Oil & Gas Sector

Oil and gas companies operating in the North Sea region remain reliant on the global talent market and international recruitment to meet workforce needs. Yet the current UK immigration system offers little to support the commercial realities of hiring in a globally-mobile industry. These issues are further compounded by the imminent overhaul of the UK immigration rules by 2021.

 

End of EU free movement

31st December 2020, the end of the Brexit transition period, will see the end of EU free movement. The impact on UK workforce planning cannot be underestimated. After this date, EU citizens wanting to come to the UK to work will need to apply for permission to enter and work in the same way as non-EEA nationals.

Oil and gas companies must consider now the impact of the changes, along with the introduction of a new points-based immigration system for 2021, on their recruitment strategies and budgets. Annual CoS allocations for 2020/2021 for example will need to take account of EU workers coming to the UK from 2021 requiring permission.

While the EU settlement scheme offers those EU citizens currently in the UK protection over their immigration rights, EU employee attrition has increased and settled status registration numbers remain far short of 100%, creating further uncertainty for UK employers over their ability to retain EU workers.

 

Senior executive business travel

Movement of people at all levels of the industry is critical, including senior executives travelling on short term business trips between European destinations. Travel from the UK to EU member states is expected to become more of a bureaucratic and compliance drain post-2020.

 

Protracted visa processing times

With the current UK immigration rules, the process of hiring non-EEA nationals under the Tier 2 route can be protracted. The rules neither support employers in taking an agile or flexible approach to meeting their recruitment needs, nor do they have regard for the economic or commercial pressures facing companies in competitive markets.

Home Office visa processing is not conducive to quick turnarounds. In particular, where visas are needed at short notice, the process can create frustration for employers and employees alike.

For example, the Home Office meets only once a month to consider Tier 2 visa applications for skilled workers. This ‘allocation date’ is set as the first working day after the 10th of every month. To be considered for that month’s allocation, employers have to ensure their Tier 2 application(s) are made by the 5th of that same month.

Applications submitted after the 5th have to wait until the next month’s allocation date for consideration – with no guarantee the application will ultimately be successful.

While this fixed window provides a degree of certainty for employers during recruitment planning, the timeframe is clearly at odds where time-sensitive or emergency requirements are concerned. Employers need to be aware of how this impacts recruitment of non-EEA nationals, and factor this into their own internal processes and workforce planning.

 

Poaching talent 

Poaching non-EEA employees from competitor companies may not be the silver bullet it first appears. Tier 2 workers cannot start working for a new company until their visa has been approved. This applies even if they are already lawfully in the UK.

In a further complication, depending on the circumstances, the employee may also have to return to their home country for the visa to be processed. Again, this has a significant impact both in terms of time and cost for the employer, and disruption for the employee.

 

GLobal Talent visa

Scientists, engineers and researchers wanting to come to the UK to work can look at the UK’s new immigration route, the Global Talent visa. A more flexible route than the Tier 2 visa, it does not require sponsorship by an employer but does require the applicant to be endorsed by an approved industry body for their status as an established or promising talent within their field of profession.

 

Immigration compliance 

Looking more generally at HR compliance, employers currently recruiting under Tier 2 should be assessing the status of their sponsorship licence to ensure it remains up to date and compliant with Home Office regulations.

The decline in non-EEA employment levels in previous years among companies in the region may have resulted in reduced focus and attention on maintaining licences, putting companies at risk of Home Office compliance breaches.

Failure to observe sponsor licence duties, such as notifying of changes to Tier 2 worker circumstances or organisational changes, can result in suspension or even revocation of the licence, and by extension the loss of permission to hire Tier 2 visa workers lawfully.

So while the recruitment drive signals positive news for the region’s oil and gas industry, employers should proceed with care when hiring and mobilising migrant workers to ensure their workforce needs are being met while avoiding Home Office scrutiny.

 

Slow to onboard 

One of the biggest challenges that recruiters face when filling energy positions is the average time it takes to hire. The sector has one of the longest interview processes and hiring windows. It takes on average 28.8 days to move candidates through their interviews. The result; companies miss out on candidates to faster moving rivals in other parts of the world.

 

Need assistance?

DavidsonMorris are established advisers to the oil & gas sector. As employment solutions lawyers, from offices in Aberdeen, London, Cambridge, Manchester and Birmingham, we work with multinational energy companies to support with their full people requirements including immigration & employment legal advice and human resource & global mobility consultancy.

We understand the commercial and legal challenges facing oil and gas companies, and work to support our clients in meeting their workforce management and planning needs while reducing legal risk exposure. Contact our oil and gas sector specialists today.

Last updated: 2nd January 2020

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