The first two international crew armed with skilled worker visas arrived for work on Northern Ireland vessels last week, after a series of initiatives by the Northern Ireland FPO (NIFPO). Lawrance Prince has restarted work this week aboard the Golden Shore N 153, and Jibin George on the Ellen Ann BA 359.

Both have considerable experience in the Northern Irish prawn fleet, having worked previously via transit visas. Sponsored via NIFPO, rather than by their skippers, the pair took the English language exam in Northern Ireland, but then were required by the rules to apply for their skilled worker visa back home in India, rather than in the UK.

However, the applications went smoothly, FN was told, and were approved within a few weeks. The two crewmen arrived back in Northern Ireland last week, eager to make up for lost time and start earning again.

NIFPO has been acting as a sponsor in these and other applications for skilled worker visas, after fishing was added to the shortage occupation list by the Home Office earlier this year. This move was the first of a series of steps that have led to the formal creation this week of a new NIFPO-run company, Skilled Visa Services, designed to take on all the paperwork and associated issues for fishing vessel owners wanting to go down the skilled visa route.

Lawrance Prince (left) and Jibin George, both from India, have restarted work this week on the Golden Shore N 153 and the Ellen Ann BA 359.

Harry Wick, CEO of NIFPO, told FN: “We’ve had UK-educated people with degrees take the English exam, and fail to get 100%, the bar is set at such a high level. But at NIFPO we’ve been working with foreign crew to improve English skills ahead of the exam for quite some time. Lawrance was already a member of the Golden Shore’s crew, and the vessel owners were forward-thinking in supporting Lawrance to pass his B1 language qualification.

“Access to waters inside 12 is particularly important to Northern Ireland vessels, and NIFPO has been financially supporting our members to achieve sponsorship for some months. Welcoming Lawrance and Jibin back to Northern Ireland, but this time on a skilled worker visa, is a huge milestone for us, and we hope they’re the first of many.

“One of the biggest complaints fishermen have is that they can never just be left alone to fish, and are always having to battle a swell of regulation and red tape. At NIFPO we see ourselves in the business of making fishermen’s lives easier, so we’ve started a new company called Skilled Visa Services which aims to take the pressure of employing crew on skilled visas off the owner by handling the load for them.

“We will offer a recruitment, admin and advice service that will keep them right with skilled visa, ILO 188 and UK employment law. We’ll also offer a payroll and pension service for those businesses that aren’t set up to do that themselves.”

Skilled Visa Services was set to formally start operation this Monday, 30 October, headed up by Claire Harding, a qualified HR specialist with significant experience in bringing in skilled visa workers from around the world for other industries.

“She lives in a fishing community and comes from a fishing family,” Harry Wick told FN, “so she has a first-hand understanding of the challenges vessel owners face and the pressures they are under, which makes her keen to help. “Skilled Visa Services will be happy to assist any fishing business in the UK, and anyone wanting that help should contact Claire at: claire. or call her on: 07507 911360.”

This story was taken from the latest issue of Fishing News. For more up-to-date and in-depth reports on the UK and Irish commercial fishing sector, subscribe to Fishing News here or buy the latest single issue for just £3.30 here

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