International Footballers Playing in the UK Premier League

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International Footballers Playing in the UK Premier League

It’s time - UEFA EURO 2024 begins this evening (14 June 2024), which will involve 24 teams battling it out to become champions. Football managers and coaches will be watching every game in order to work out their European targets for the 2024 transfer window which also opened on 14 June 2024.

In the 2023-24 football season, there was more than 600 players in the Premier League, and it has been reported that more than half of the players were international players (66.2% according to Some of these players won’t need a visa to play in the UK; the figure includes players from Ireland, Wales and Scotland, for example, many of whom will hold a British or Irish passport. Other players could also be British or Irish by virtue of their or their parents’ historic residence in the UK. For those that aren’t British or Irish, in this blog I’ll be looking into the visa options that exist to enable them to play professional football in the UK.

Rules exist for European players who relocated to the UK on or before 31 December 2020. Such players will qualify for pre-settled status and subsequently settled status after 5 years residence in the UK under the EU Settlement Scheme. These players simply need to show UK residence, with no excessive absences or bad character considerations, in order to secure status under the EU Settlement Scheme.

For those travelling to the UK from 01 January 2021, regardless of nationality, footballers have had to meet the same requirements under Immigration Rules to secure permission to enter and remain as International Sportspersons. Players must show they are internally established and can make a significant contribution to the development of football at the highest level in the UK. As with all sponsored visas, the club they’re playing for must hold a sponsor licence, and must issue the player with a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS). Crucially, the player will need to receive a Governing Body Endorsement.

It is the Football Association (FA) who issues endorsements for footballers; they must confirm that the player is elite; is internationally established; and will make a significant contribution to the development of football at the highest level in the UK. They will consider various criteria when making this assessment to determine if the player qualifies for an ‘Auto Pass’ endorsement, if they can score sufficient points for an endorsement, or if other factors are relevant. The assessment that the FA undertakes can be summarised as follows:

Qualification for endorsement Considerations
Auto Pass International appearances
National team's FIFA World rankings
15 points International appearances
Domestic league minutes
Continental progression of the player’s last club
League quality of player’s current club
10-14 points and exceptional circumstances Points assessment is based on above criteria
Exceptional circumstances must have prevented the player from achieving 15 points
Elite Significant Contribution (ESC) player (elite foreign players who will make a significant contribution to the sport) Involves an assessment against specific ESC criteria, which includes appearances in youth international matches, participation in continental youth competition matches, or if the player has some senior international, continental or domestic senior competition appearances
Exceptions panel can assess the endorsement Youth player must show significant potential and be of sufficient quality to enhance the development of the game in England

If the player can’t secure an endorsement under any of the above options, they will have no other opportunities in the same transfer window, unless circumstances change.


Player A is a citizen of Brazil and has achieved 45% international appearances for Brazil. Brazil has a FIFA World Ranking of 5, so Player A would receive an Auto Pass and would qualify for an endorsement (players from Brazil and the other top 10 ranked countries only need to have been involved in 30-39% of their team’s international matches to receive an Auto Pass endorsement).

If Player A’s international appearances for Brazil amounted to 15%, Player A would receive 9 points. We’d then look at the other criteria assessed by the FA. He plays for Campeonato Brasileiro Série A side Sao Paulo; according to the FA, Campeonato Brasileiro Série A is a Band 3 league. He has managed to secure 31% of domestic minutes throughout the last 12 months, meaning he’s able to score 2 points for his domestic league minutes. This gives Player A a total of 11 points. Player A could try to argue exceptional circumstances at this stage, but it might be worthwhile looking at the remaining FA criteria to see if Player A qualifies for any more points. He hasn’t played in any continental matches, but Sao Paulo qualified for the group stages of Copa Libertadores, a Band 1 continental competition. He can, therefore, score 3 further points. He can also score a further 8 points for the league quality of Campeonato Brasileiro Série A. This gives Player A a total of 22 points, meaning he will qualify for an endorsement.

Additional eligibility requirements also exist, including an English language requirement. However, it is open to clubs to sponsor players for a period of up to 12 months initially, so that they can relocate to the UK and improve their English language ability; the Level A1 CEFR English language requirement only applies to players being sponsored for a period exceeding 12 months.

Planning is key when it comes to International Sportsperson applications – there’s little point pursuing a player if an endorsement can’t be secured from the FA for the purpose of a visa application. The ESC and exceptions panel options for endorsements certainly raise more flexibility for clubs looking to sponsor youth players who are potentially at the beginning of their professional career and may not be in a position to secure sufficient points under the assessment criteria.

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