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The UK Border Agency has recently been introducing  a new points-based system for people who want to come to the United Kingdom to work. This system replaces most of the existing work-based categories; and has the potential to cause employment problems – if not staff shortages – in the live events industry.  Here, Mark Sly, operations director of leading crewing company Pinnacle Crew, explains the effects of this change.

 The UK live events industry has always relied heavily on freelance and temporary staff, some of whom are from countries like South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.  This is especially true of the crewing side of the industry; but with changes to work permit regulations, clients need to ensure that they are working with a crewing company that is fully aware of these changes and is employing its staff legally.  

From our perspective, one of the key changes has been the replacement of the “working holidaymakers” visa with the Youth Mobility scheme.  This is a points-based scheme that requires applicants to acquire sufficient points to gain leave to enter the UK.  Points are given for age (18 years to 30 years), whether applicants have at least £1,600 to maintain themselves, and whether the applicant’s own country participates in the scheme.

There are only four countries participating in the Youth Mobility scheme – Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Japan.

Crucially, this means that South Africans – who historically have provided a large proportion of crewing staff – are now restricted in the ways in which they can gain a permit to work as crew in the UK.

The main method is having a grandparent born in the UK, which will qualify a South African citizen for what is called an “ancestral visa”. This is a five-year visa that allows the holder to take up employment in the UK. 

Secondly, a person having a father who is a British citizen immediately qualifies for British citizenship and may therefore work in the UK.  Those with a British mother, however, currently only have the right to register as a British citizen if they were born between 7 February 1961 amd 1 January 1983.

Of course, there are different rules for citizens from the European Economic Area (EEA), which comprises the EU plus the non-EU countries of Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway.  An EEA national who will be in the UK for more than three months will have a right of residence for as long as they remain a “qualified person” – one who is in the UK and exercising an EEA Treaty right by showing evidence as a job-seeker or worker.

Exceptions to this rule apply to Hungary, Poland, Estonia, Czech Republic, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia and Slovenia, whose nationals need to register under the Worker Registration Scheme.

Similarly, Bulgarian and Romanian nationals need permission to work before starting any job.

In contrast, Swiss nationals have the same rights as those enjoyed by EEA nationals.

Employers have a statutory responsibility to ensure that all of their migrant employees  are eligible to work in capacity for which they are being employed, and it is easy to see how some fall foul of the law. 

Close on-going monitoring of migration and  work permit guidelines should be a priority to provide clients with complete trust in employment practices. 

Without this close monitoring there is a critical danger that illegal workers will be employed – even unintentionally – in the live events industry.  This can well result in insurance and public liability cover being rendered null and void. Clients should be able to trust their suppliers to provide a service that covers this legal minefield.

For example, we have implemented a computer-based system that integrates each new crew member’s passport identity and work permit expiry dates with their corresponding embassy’s.  In fact, it is our policy to end contracts with our staff once their work permits have expired.

We all have a responsibility to make the industry as professional and as safe as possible; and placing this emphasis on working within the immigration laws is one important facet in achieving this.

A version of this article was published in the March 2010 issue of Access All Areas www.access-aa.co.uk

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