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Fishing boats will be left tied up at island piers if the UK Home Office is unable sort out the Sponsored Employers Scheme, Na h-Eileanan an Iar MP Angus MacNeil says.

Mr MacNeil had discussions with fishermen on Stornoway pier who told him they had filled crew shortages with hardworking foreign crew who were now facing deportation due to rejected sponsored visa applications. 

Home Office regulations introduced after Brexit mean that vessels employing foreign workers have to apply for Sponsored Visas.

However, skippers report that applications are being rejected without explanation leaving skippers with sudden crew shortages. 

In a letter sent to the Home Office last week, Mr MacNeil said: “I am contacting you on behalf of fishermen in my constituency who have shared strong concerns about the challenges of securing skilled crew members for fishing vessels following Brexit.  

“The Scottish fishing industry is very reliant on foreign labour and the recruitment of skilled crew is essential for the operation and maintenance of fishing vessels.

"For the last two years, the recruitment of seamen from especially Ghana and Philippines has been key to keeping vessels at sea in parts of my constituency.  

“At a recent meeting with UKBA it was announced that any vessels working within UK territorial waters carrying foreign crew not employed under the sponsored visa scheme risked a £20,000 fine per crewman.

"A skipper in my constituency tells me that he has submitted several sponsored visa applications to the Home Office and all applications have been rejected. The reasons for the rejections have not been given.” 

Mr MacNeil added that the requirement for crew to pass writing and reading English examination is also a barrier as although the seamen have worked for many years and are fluent English speakers, they are unable to pass this specific exam.  

He said: “Skippers could now be left with no option but to tie up vessels. Certainly, when I spoke to the men from Ghana, who were liking their work in Stornoway, we had no problem understanding each other's English although neither of us have sat or passed a Home Office English language test.”