Government immigration fees can add significant costs to UK energy projects, particularly for companies that previously relied on European nationals pre-Brexit. A recent government policy change could result in significant savings whilst continuing to ensure compliance, writes Sean Rhodes, manager at Fragomen.

Energy companies often require crew members to regularly travel to the UK for several weeks at a time for the duration of a project. Prior to Brexit, many companies relied on European nationals for these activities as their visa exempt status helped minimise project costs.

As UK rules currently permit certain activities to be undertaken by visitors to the UK, it means that European nationals may not require a visa, provided that certain conditions are met.

For example, an employee of an overseas company, including sub-contractors, can install or service equipment where there is a contract between the UK company and the overseas manufacturer or supplier.

The government’s published guidance, however, states that the duration should typically be limited to less than one month. Further frequent visits increase the risk that a worker may be detained at the border because an officer may consider that they are effectively working in the UK.

An alternate option would be for the company to sponsor the worker at the outset if the business already holds a Sponsor Licence. Sponsorship is costly, particularly as the UK government has a Skills Charge of £1,000 per year that must be paid by the business. A recent policy change, however, means that European nationals may be exempt from this charge in certain circumstances.

The worker would need to be an EU national and work for a linked business in the UK. In this scenario, the sponsor may be exempt from the Skills Charge if they sponsor a worker for up to three years under the Global Business Mobility: Senior or Specialist Worker route, thus potentially saving the business £3,000 per European national.

If the business does not currently hold a licence to sponsor workers and would like to explore this route, it’s advisable to engage with an immigration firm at the onset of the project to help to ensure all sponsor licence applications are properly prepared and submitted in a timely manner.

The outside legal team can then help to assess whether obtaining a visa would be appropriate and prepare the visa application, if required. Once the crew member has obtained the visa, they would be permitted to undertake work activities outside of installing or servicing equipment, and the durations and frequency of visits would no longer be an issue, provided that the worker did not stay beyond the end date of their three-year visa.

Global Business Mobility: Senior or Specialist Worker visas help companies and their employees stay compliant and reduce their risks against criminal and civil liability should the UK authorities perceive someone to be working illegally. These risks along with substantial fines can derail company’s projects, their bottom line and ultimately their success.

Sean Rhodes is a Manager at Fragomen, a leading firm dedicated exclusively to immigration services worldwide. His clients include firms with offices based in Scotland. Fragomen has almost 6,000 immigration professionals and support staff in more than 60 offices across the Americas, EMEA and Asia Pacific. Fragomen offers immigration support in more than 170 countries.