UK immigration policies hamper maritime industry recruitment

The widening skills gap in UK’s shore-side maritime sector is being exacerbated by the country’s restrictive immigration and visa policies, say academics and recruitment consultants.

Professor Heather McLaughlin of Canterbury University cited a predictive study by Deloitte and Oxford universities, pointing to a major skills gap, amounting to 4,000 ex-seafarers needed in the UK.

“The study found over 2,000 shore-based jobs in the UK could be filled by foreign ex-seafarers. There is some evidence of substitution, of UK ex-seafarers by non-UK nationals. But as we can see there isn’t going to be sufficient substitution to address the shortfall.

“One issue is clearly around immigration laws and we’re seeing a lot in the press at the moment about the immigration situation. My field, the education sector, has been hit particularly badly by immigration laws and visa requirements, and what we have seen in shore-based employment is difficulties in obtaining visas for certain jobs,” she said at a conference put together as part of London International Shipping Week.

McLaughlin argued that these difficulties, along with ongoing issues in the recruitment of British crew, caused major problems for UK companies employing ex-seafarers. “There will be increased training costs, because if you haven’t got those seafarers and you need them you’re going to have to provide the training somehow, which is costing the companies to do, and you then have an increasing likelihood of poaching.”

“There is also a risk of companies relocating overseas to where the ex-seafarers actually are, and there may be a loss of competitiveness – a threat, particularly, to maritime London.”

Phil Parry, chairman of specialist recruitment firm Spinnaker Global, argued: “We in the UK can recruit from the wider EU, but as we all know that the source nationality of many seafarers is outside that region. So getting those people visas and getting them recognised by the UK government as people who should be given shortage occupation status until we have enough British and European seafarers to fill the slots that we need in the UK.

“If we don’t, we will lose our shore-based expertise. We need to bring in foreign seafarers – we need to recognise that we are part of a global shipping community.” 

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