The global drive for clean energy generation and innovation has never been greater as our focus increasingly turns to net zero targets and a more sustainable future.
However, the development of technologies, energy generation, transmission, distribution and maintenance and operation of related infrastructure is all reliant upon securing and retaining staff with the necessary technical expertise and experience – be it engineers or digital and IT experts.
Many of our clients are grappling with an ongoing talent shortage in the UK amid global competition for top talent - a situation exacerbated by Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic.
Employers can no longer recruit from the European Economic Area with the freedom and ease they had pre-Brexit and undoubtedly some skills have been lost during the Covid-19 pandemic. Employers involved in all aspects of renewable energy generation, from onshore and offshore wind generation and solar technologies to battery storage and tidal, are grappling with similar challenges.
In this article, our business immigration law experts look at some of the key challenges and considerations employers should keep in mind when recruiting and retaining staff.
Next week, in the second part of our series, we'll be focusing on employment as our experts discuss engaging contractors, supporting the health and wellbeing of staff and ways to protect your business when people move on.
The UK’s skills shortages require employers to cast the net wider when recruiting – looking to overseas candidates. This presents additional considerations and challenges.
1. Do they need a UK work visa?
- Will they be working in the UK? If so, UK immigration control will apply. Whilst third country nationals can enter the UK for up to 6 months as a visitor they are subject to strict rules as to permitted activities. If recruiting an individual to be employed and based in the UK the visitor route is unlikely to be appropriate. For other cases the specific assignment should be assessed to consider whether the visitor route would be appropriate and provide a more cost-effective solution. It’s important to note that one size does not fit all here - the most compliant option tends to be very fact specific.
- Are they working on offshore wind facilities in UK territorial waters? A specific visa exemption for eligible migrants engaged in the construction and maintenance of such offshore wind projects is due to expire on 1 July 22. It is not yet known whether this will be extended further. Affected employers should now be making contingency plans to ensure they understand the rules applicable in the absence of the concession, are able to have continued access to required skills and can deliver project commitments.
- Right to work checks are key to identifying whether an individual has or needs appropriate immigration permission to work in the UK. The rules in this area have changed frequently over the years – it is vital employers understand their duties to prevent illegal working.
2. What type of UK work visa is required?
- Most overseas recruits will need a sponsored work visa. The two key routes are the skilled worker visa or the senior or specialist worker visa (the latter is only for overseas group staff). Both routes have extensive eligibility criteria such as skills thresholds, salary requirements and English language requirements. It is important to identify at an early stage whether the role in question will qualify for one or both of these routes and which is most appropriate for the business and individual.
- Other new immigration routes are now available for overseas businesses (without a UK presence) looking to provide services / secondees in the UK and for certain international graduates looking to come to the UK to work. Further, an individual’s personal circumstances may open the door to other options.
3. Do you have a sponsor licence?
- The key routes for recruiting overseas nationals to the UK require the UK business to have a sponsor licence. This is a key tool for employers in the sector. Those without one would be wise to consider securing a licence now for future-proofing, so they can offer employment to candidates when required without lengthy procedural delays.
- Those with a sponsor licence must ensure they are up to speed with their extensive, often time-critical, compliance duties to be able to continue using that licence.
4. Understand the process of sponsorship and visa applications
- A key aspect of attracting top talent is making the immigration process as stress-free as possible. Those eligible for sponsored visas must be sponsored by the UK business and, thereafter, apply for their UK work visa. Employers should have: an understanding of that process, the UK Visas and Immigration costs that arise and related timescales; and a clear policy on the level of support (practical and financial) it will provide to candidates.
- Whilst employers are not required to support and pay for visa applications, given the competitive space in which they operate, candidates will often be lost where there is a lack of support for them and their dependants in comparison to other employers.
- Any employers involved in recruitment of overseas nationals (particularly graduate schemes imminently starting) should be mindful of the fact processing timescales have been impacted by the Ukraine crisis. We recommend those processes are initiated as early as possible to meet start dates and candidate expectations.