We’ve all heard about the problems major airlines are facing in the UK at the moment – there are delays with security and baggage in airports, flights are facing long delays or are being cancelled, and families have been unable to travel on their planned holidays. This has resulted in airlines asking the UK government to relax its post-Brexit Immigration Rules in the hope that we can attract aviation workers to the UK.
At the date of writing this article, the government hasn’t announced any changes, but as a UK immigration lawyer, I thought I’d jot down my thoughts about the situation…
There are a couple of options available for EU nationals who were present in the UK prior to 31 December 2020:
- The EU Settlement Scheme remains open, and individuals can still apply for pre-settled or settled status. We will need to provide a reason for making a late application (the deadline was 30 June 2021), but I recently helped a French national receive confirmation that he held settled status due to a 5-year continuous period he had spent in the UK in the past.
- EU nationals who have worked in the UK before 31 December 2020, and whose home remains outside of the UK, can apply for a Frontier Worker Permit. This will enable the individual to travel to the UK for work, but they wouldn’t be able to relocate to the UK on a permanent basis, nor can those who hold a Frontier Worker Permit secure settlement in the UK.
EU and non-EU nationals can travel to the UK as visitors for up to 6 months. Visitors can undertake some business activities in the UK such as carrying out site visits and inspections, but under current Immigration Rules, visitors cannot undertake work as ground crew within an airport.
Individuals can be sponsored to relocate to the UK, either as Skilled Workers (working for a UK company) or potentially as Global Business Mobility Senior or Specialist Workers (if already employed by an international organisation with an office in the UK), but the role undertaken in the UK would need to be recognised as a skilled occupation or a shortage occupation. Airline pilots could be sponsored, as could air traffic controllers / assistants, and also cabin crew, customs officers and immigration officers (some roles as skilled workers only), but baggage handlers and security officers are not eligible for sponsorship – the roles aren’t considered to meet the required skill level and are not recognised shortage occupations in the UK.
What other options do those wanting to work within UK airports have at the minute?
- A business overseas could consider branching out to the UK – the recently introduced UK Expansion Worker category could assist with this. This would essentially enable a senior manager or specialist employee (not a baggage handler) to relocate to the UK to set up a business and commence trading. Although, if planning on recruiting baggage handlers to help the problems faced by airports, the organisation would need to rely on the local labour to recruit – as mentioned above, lower skilled jobs can’t be sponsored.
- Anyone hoping to relocate to the UK could consider whether they qualify for a visa on an unsponsored route – perhaps a late EU Settlement Scheme application (explained above), as the family member of a British or settled person in the UK, or based on ancestry.
- Those aged 18 to 30 from Australia, Canada, Monaco, New Zealand, San Marino, Iceland, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea or Taiwan could potentially secure a Youth Mobility Scheme visa enabling them to relocate to the UK for up to 2 years. Youth Mobility Scheme migrants can undertake employment in the UK, so could fill any role within an airport.
- Graduates who have completed specified education in the UK could secure a 2 year Graduate visa, although such individuals are likely to want to secure skilled work as Skilled Workers as they’ll likely want to be placed on a route to settlement as quickly as possible.
I’ve no idea if the government will be relaxing their Immigration Rules to assist airports at the minute. If they did, I’d imagine temporary measures would be introduced, similar to the visa scheme that was introduced for poultry workers, pork butchers and HGV food drivers last year. This scheme enabled workers to come to the UK for up to 6 months, essentially to ensure we could all enjoy our Christmas! Would such a scheme attract many workers if they can only travel for a short period and would then need to leave – I’m not so sure. It also won’t assist on a permanent basis – won’t we just face the same problems every summer when everyone is wanting to travel abroad for a summer holiday?
Wonder if we’ll ever get to the end of the problems Brexit has caused?!
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