The Nationality and Borders Act 2022 was signed into law on 28 April 2022. Most of the 2022 Act is not yet in force and will be phased in over time. This legislation, whilst not focussed on the fishing industry, could have a significant impact on the use of foreign fishing crew on UK flagged vessels, with clear indications of increased compliance activity in this area.
The information below sets out our current understanding of the latest developments. This meeting was an opportunity to go into more detail and also to hear from Chris Williams from ITF, and Jessica Sparks from University of Nottingham/Tufts University. This will be followed by a meeting with representative from the Fishermen’s Welfare Alliance to hear catching sector views.
- The UK government is planning to clarify guidance concerning transit visas used by foreign fishing crew on UK vessels fishing inside UK territorial waters – the coastal waters extending out to 12 nautical miles (nm) from the shore.
- This is based on the implementation of the Nationality and Borders Act 2022, in particular Section 43 Working in UK Waters: Arrival and Entry.
- We believe this policy guidance will make clear the interpretation and enforcement relating to vessels operating at any time within UK territorial waters.
- Guidance issued in 2020 detailed that fishing vessels operating wholly or mainly inside 12nm require explicit permission to use foreign crew.
- In practice, this updated guidance and enforcement is expected to have the impact of limiting any UK vessel from having any foreign worker on a transit visa undertaking any fishing activities at all within UK territorial waters.
- Skippers found to have been operating with workers on transit visas inside UK territorial waters reportedly have the potential to be fined c.£20k per transit visa worker and Border Force will have the power to indefinitely detain this vessel. Workers are likely to be deported in the event that they are identified during enforcement activities.
- This will likely have a particularly significant impact on vessels operating on the West Coast of Scotland and Northern Ireland, as many vessels have to travel up to 100 miles from their coastal ports to be outside territorial waters. Some parts of South-West England may also be impacted.
- Vessels operating entirely outside of UK territorial waters are less likely to be impacted, with the use of transit visas to employ migrant fishers expected to continue.
- This is not a significant change to legislation – but the Nationalities and Borders Act has provided an opportunity to clarify what is meant by vessels operating ‘wholly or mainly’ inside / outside UK territorial waters. The expected change does not appear to fundamentally address the use of transit visas since they are expected to continue to be used by a proportion of the UK fishing fleet fishing outside UK territorial waters.
- The challenges associated with the use of the Skilled Worker Visa remain across the entire fleet, and only a small number of fishers are currently entering the UK fishing sector via this route.
- This does not address the significant impact this will have on coastal communities and inshore fishing fleets – where there is no alternative labour source.
- In the immediate term, we are concerned that this development, without any further reforms, could put some foreign workers using Transit Visas into a more vulnerable position, create issues for the UK inshore sector in particular, and exacerbate human rights risks that we need to assess and respond to.
Please contact Andy Hickman for a link to the recording of the meeting.