The announcement came on the same day that the policy was introduced, causing immediate challenges for fishermen in the isles and around the UK, with foreign nationals banned from doing work within UK waters without a Skilled Worker Visa, with a high barrier to fulfilment.
Local fisheries organisations as well as SFF and the NFFO have long pointed out the flaws with the Skilled Worker Visa process, such as the excessive English language requirement, the high costs associated with the process, and the slow turn-around. No meaningful changes have yet been made to the process.
The rules which have come into force today jeopardise Northern Isles fishing and seafood processing sectors. This includes Orkney boats which rely on foreign workers. The geography of their fishing grounds includes uninhabited islands such as Rona, Sulisker, and Sule Skerry – which are included as part of the 12nm from coastline rule – compounds the issue further.
This decision not only jeopardises 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.
Mr Carmichael said:
“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.
“This is not just about the catching sector. If fishermen cannot operate their vessels with full crew then the processing sector will be hit in short order as well. It is a classic case of ministers and their officials making a decision on the hoof with no care for the consequences.
“Fishing communities are sick and tired of being caught between governments which treat them with disinterest mixed with contempt – we need change.”