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UK Visa Requirements for Offshore Workers

In the vast expanse of the open sea, a distinct category of workers sets sail, embarking on a unique and challenging journey. These individuals are known as offshore workers, and their work takes them into the waters surrounding the United Kingdom. While their duties may keep them far from the British shorelines, the intricacies of UK immigration law still apply. In this post, we dive into the world of offshore workers, shedding light on who they are, the visas they require, and the legal obligations both individuals and sponsors must fulfil.

Who Is an Offshore Worker?

Offshore workers are individuals who arrive in UK waters:

  1. for the purpose of undertaking work in those waters, and
  2. without first entering the UK.

This is the case unless an exception applies. These exceptions are outlined in section 11A of the Immigration Act 1971.  

Navigating Visa Requirements for Offshore Workers

The need for a visa hinges on the offshore worker’s proximity to the UK’s territorial waters, and whether or not they hold British or Irish citizenship.

If you are employed within 12 nautical miles of the UK (‘UK territorial waters’) and are not a British or Irish citizen, a visa will be required to work.

For work being carried out outside of UK territorial waters, workers are not subject to UK immigration control and therefore do not need a UK visa. 

If you are intending to  work on the UK continental shelf, the area itself is not subject to UK immigration control, but the relevant permission is needed to enter the UK and travel offshore to work there.

Non-visa-nationals do not need to apply for entry clearance to the UK as a visitor. Note that this is only valid for six months.  A transit visa should be obtained instead. The requirements for a transit visa are:

  • You are genuinely in transit to another country outside the Common Travel Area and you are taking a reasonable transit route;
  • You will not access public funds or medical treatment, work or study in the UK;
  • You genuinely intend and will be able to leave the UK within 48 hours of your arrival; and
  • You are assured entry by your country of destination and any other country you may be travelling through to get there.

Visa nationals require a valid visa, generally if they are working in either UK territorial waters and/or the UK continental shelf. Appendix Visitor: Visa national list sets out who this applies to.

Selecting the Right Visa for an Offshore Worker

A work route may be the most appropriate visa to obtain for an offshore worker, such as a Skilled Worker visa. This may be appropriate if the worker is to spend the majority of their time working in UK territorial waters. It is worth considering which occupation code the role would fall under and whether this is featured on the shortage occupation list. This requires having an employer sponsor you; the employer should hold or if necessary obtain the appropriate sponsor licence

The general requirements for a Skilled Worker Sponsor Licence are that:

  • You are a genuine organisation operating lawfully in the UK;
  • You are honest, dependable, reliable and are not engaging and have not engaged in behaviour or actions that are not conducive to the public good;
  • You are capable of carrying out your sponsor duties and evidencing your compliance in a timeframe and manner set out in sponsor guidance.

Once a sponsor licence has been obtained, the sponsor will need to be assigned a certificate of sponsorship and then make the skilled worker visa application. Further information on this process can be found here

Alternatively, you can  consider if you are eligible to apply under a personal immigration route, such as the Spouse visa.

Some types of offshore work can be carried out on a Visit visa. This may be the most cost-effective option if the activity is permitted under the conditions of permission. 

Frontier worker permits may be available to EU, EEA and Swiss citizens who are not primarily resident in the UK but who are, or intend to be, working in the UK. 

If work or travel is particularly infrequent or minimal, you may be eligible under the exception for Seafarers which is set out at section 8(1) of the Immigration Act 1971

Previously, there was a concession for offshore wind workers but this was withdrawn on 23 May 2023 so a valid visa is now required. There is a current concession for offshore well boat workers. 

Right to Work Checks and Sponsor Duties

If you employ a worker within 12 nautical miles of the UK landmass, you should carry out right to work checks. This is because workers are subject to UK immigration control whilst in this area.

It is an offence to employ migrants in UK territorial waters without permission to work.

Notification Requirement for Offshore Workers – Individuals and Sponsors

As an offshore worker, if you do not have a sponsor, you should inform the Home Office of the date you arrive and leave the UK, as per the Immigration (Offshore Worker Notification and Exemption from Control (Amendment)) Regulations 2023.

For arrival to the UK, this notification must be made no earlier than the day the offshore worker arrives in the United Kingdom and no later than 10 working days beginning on the day after arrival. For departure, this notification must be made no earlier than the day on which the offshore worker leaves the UK and no later than 10 working days beginning on the day after the offshore worker has left the UK.

When sponsoring an offshore worker, on top of the typical sponsorship duties you hold, you should also  inform the Home Office of the the dates when that worker:

  • First arrives in UK waters for the beginning of the job for which they are being sponsored;
  • Leaves UK waters at the end of the job for which they are being sponsored. 

Sponsors need to make the relevant notification:

  • no earlier than the date the worker arrives in or leaves (whichever is relevant) UK waters;
  • no later than 10 working days after the date the worker arrives in or leaves (whichever is relevant) UK waters.

Notifications for either individuals or sponsors should be sent to: 

or posted to:

Economic Migration Unit

PO Box 3468


S3 8WA

What if I Do Not Disembark in the UK?

Even if an offshore worker does not disembark on a landmass, if you arrive in UK territorial waters for the purposes of working in those waters, you will be considered as having entered the UK.

Contact Our Immigration Barristers

Navigating the world of offshore work and UK immigration can be challenging, but understanding the requirements and responsibilities is essential for a smooth voyage. For expert advice and assistance on compliance and right to work checks, contact our Immigration Barristers on 0203 617 9173 or complete the online enquiry form below.


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