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Marine / Fishermen ‘thrown into legal limbo’ as Home Office makes no concession on foreign crew visas

Photo: Shetland News

THE LOCAL fishing industry is questioning why allowances to immigration rules are being granted for people working in aquaculture and offshore renewables but not to those crewing fishing boats.

 Industry bodies Shetland Fishermen’s Association (SFA) and Scottish Fishermen’s Federation (SFF) both described the Home Office’s rejection of any concession for fishing visas as “hugely disappointing”.

Meanwhile isles MP Alistair Carmichael slammed the decision as “beyond reckless and ridiculous”.

The Home Office advised on Wednesday that it would not provide a concession to the fishing industry for foreign crew working within 12 nautical miles.  

The announcement came on the same day the policy was introduced, causing immediate challenges for fishermen with foreign nationals banned from doing work within UK waters without a skilled worker visa.

Over recent years, companies and partnerships operating the UK fishing fleet have found it increasingly difficult to recruit sufficient crew.

Through the Fishermen’s Welfare Alliance, the industry submitted a case to the Home Office setting out efforts made to address those crewing issues and requested time to adjust to the changes in the labour market.

SFF chief executive Elspeth Macdonald said: “We know that other maritime sectors including offshore renewables and the aquaculture industry have been granted concessions to allow them to adjust, and all we sought were equivalent arrangements for our sector. 

“It is therefore hugely disappointing that the Home Office has rejected this request, and there will likely be significant impacts on parts of the UK fleet.

Sheila Keith of the SFA added: “This is obviously disappointing news for any vessel employing foreign crew and each skipper will have to assess how this affects their own operation. 

“We question why allowances have been made for aquaculture and offshore renewables workers and will be following that up with the Home Office.”

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Meanwhile, Carmichael said the decision would not only jeopardise the livelihoods of fishers and the onshore processing sector, but directly risks the safety of vessels by forcing them to fish further out during poor weather.

“To announce this decision on the same day that it comes into force is beyond reckless and ridiculous. Home Office ministers must explain themselves – and change course immediately.

“The fishing industry has engaged at every stage with the Home Office, working with officials constructively and supportively to point out the clear problems with the Skilled Worker Visa process for fishermen. The Home Office have been given every bit of information they need but it seems that they just do not care.

“Their decision today is all the more baffling given that it appears that other sectors such as aquaculture and offshore renewables have been given six-month easements. If it was possible for those sectors, then it surely was possible for fishermen.

“It is throwing fishermen into legal limbo when many of them are already at sea with their crew, putting them at risk of financial penalties with no warning.”

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