If you’re heading to the UK for work, there is a good chance you will need a visa to be able to do so legally. But what if your work isn’t on land? If you’re an offshore worker, you might be wondering if you still need a visa if you won’t be setting foot on UK soil.

Interestingly, there is still a chance you will need a UK work visa if your job takes place in UK territorial waters. The vast majority of offshore workers will need a Skilled Worker Visa, which replaced the Tier 2 (General Worker) visa in December 2020. This visa category requires an employer to sponsor your visa, so you will need to check that your offshore employer is a UK visa sponsor.

If you’re curious about the UK visa requirements for offshore workers, read on to learn more about the requirements and application process. We’ll also look at unique situations where you might be passing through the UK on the way to an offshore appointment, or attending training but not working on an offshore site.

What is an offshore worker?

An offshore worker is a foreign national who arrives in UK waters for the purpose of engaging in work activities without first arriving in the UK. It is a very specific category of worker. Typical work activities would include working on an oil rig.

UK waters include anywhere up to 12 nautical miles from the UK coastline and also any internal waterways. As an offshore worker, there are specific UK visa requirements you will need to observe. This includes securing the relevant working visa and also informing the UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) of when you will be arriving and departing UK waters.

What are the UK visa requirements for offshore workers?

If you have determined that your work is classified as offshore work, you will need to confirm if you require a visa to undertake work. Even if you won’t be arriving at a UK port, you will still need a visa and your sponsor will also be responsible for informing the Home Office of your arrival and departure.

The most common visa category for offshore workers will be a Skilled Worker Visa. This visa category requires a UK visa sponsor, so you will need to confirm that your employer is eligible to sponsor your visa.

Do I need a UK visa?

The requirement for a visa rests on the location of the work. If you will be within 12 nautical miles of the UK coastline, you will need a UK visa. Even if you will not set foot on land for the duration of your work arrangement, you still need a visa to be a UK offshore worker.

If your work will take place on the UK continental shelf, the area itself is not subject to UK immigration control. However, you may need a visa to be able to transit through the UK and travel to your place of work on the UK continental shelf. You might need to secure a transit visa to be able to continue your travels on to your offshore place of work.

There are exceptions for Seamen who may be granted temporary shore leave. This will enable ship crews to disembark for short visits, provided their presence is properly reported to the Home Office and they are not subject to an immigration removal order.

Choosing the correct visa for offshore work

There are several options available to you as an offshore worker. Before choosing your visa route, first check if you need to secure a visa to work in the UK.

You are eligible to work in the UK and UK territorial waters if;

  • You are a British or Irish citizen
  • You have settled or pre-settled status from the EU Settlement Scheme
  • If you have applied to the EU Settlement Scheme and are awaiting a decision
  • You have a Family Permit from the EU Settlement Scheme
  • You have indefinite leave to remain in the UK
  • You have right of abode in the UK

If you do not meet the above requirements, you will require a visa to work in UK waters. These are the most popular routes available to you:

The skilled worker route

The Skilled Worker Visa replaced the Tier 2 (General Worker) and marks a shift towards a points-based visa system. To be eligible for this visa category, you will need to be sponsored by an eligible company. You can check if your employer is a UK visa sponsor here.

This visa category is best suited to skilled workers in a shortage occupation. Engineers, welders and fishing occupations all feature on this list.

To secure this visa category, you would need to confirm that the employer is a UK visa sponsor. They will apply for a certificate of sponsorship and you would then attach this to your visa application.

When working offshore, it is the responsibility of the employer to keep the Home Office updated on their workers whereabouts. So, if you are working in UK waters but don’t arrive via a UK port, UKVI will still be aware of your presence.

The transit visa route

If your work will not take place in UK waters but you need to pass through the UK on the way to your place of work, a transit visa might be the best option. This route is only available to non-visa nationals, such as individuals from the EU. Instead of a work or visit visa, you would simply secure a transit visa to enable you to pass through the UK and move on to offshore work.

The personal visa route

If your partner is a UK national or has leave to remain in the UK, you could be eligible for a personal visa route such as a spouse visa. This would be an excellent option if you regularly plan to work offshore in UK waters, as it would remove the need for a UK visa.

The visitor visa route

For certain types of work, it may be easier to secure a visitor visa. This would enable you to attend training, meetings or interviews in certain circumstances.

If you’re unsure of your requirements as an offshore worker, we encourage you to get in touch with our team. We can advise you on the best route available to you so that you can start work without delay. Offshore work can be incredibly lucrative, but delays in the visa process can eat into your earnings. With A Y & J Solicitors on your side, you can be confident you’ll achieve the optimal outcome.

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