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Sports Immigration and Transfers
The UK is a top destination for athletes and sports professionals around the world in a diverse range of disciplines. Our corporate immigration team has in-depth knowledge of the international and domestic regulations related to visas.
We have advised football clubs, agents, international federations, and individual players and their families on all aspects of immigration to the UK and global travel.
How JMW Can Help
Our experience allows us to quickly assess eligibility and spot issues before they develop into problems.
We have an extensive network of contacts at the Home Office and worldwide, which helps us to offer practical and commercial solutions, meaning our clients can get the players, coaches and backroom staff they need with a minimum of fuss.
Also, JMW is a market leader in advising third-party investment in football, having acted for some of the world’s biggest investment funds for several years.
Examples of our recent work include:
- Advising top-tier Premier League and Championship football clubs on player immigration matters
- Assisting with the sponsor licence and management for a top-tier Premier League football club
- Advising on visa compliance for a high-profile boxing match taking place in the UK
- Advising on visa compliance issues for motorsport companies on driver immigration matters
- Advising an international rugby union team on immigration issues for its coaching staff
- Visas for Sportspeople and Coaches
These are the options available to sportspeople seeking to enter the UK:
- Sportsperson visa
- Temporary worker visa
If you want to work as a sportsperson or coach in the UK, you will normally need to have one of the two types of visas mentioned above. The Home Office points-based system contains special categories and rules for those within the sporting industry and covers both professional and amateur athletes.
Sportspeople and coaches will have to be sponsored by an employer who will need to hold a Home Office sponsor licence. However, if you are intending to be in the UK briefly, i.e. for a single event or activity, a visitor visa may be more appropriate.
For general information on how the UK's post-Brexit sponsorship licence application process works, download our Guide to Employing Overseas Workers brochure.
Players on Loan
When you sponsor a sportsperson under either a Sportsperson visa or Temporary Worker visa, the Home Office place certain responsibilities on you if they are on loan to another club. It is also important to note that you can only loan and accept players if your governing body permits it.
A player may only be loaned if they will return to your club after the loan period. As the sponsor, you will continue to be responsible for the player and must make appropriate arrangements with the loan club in order that you can continue to meet your sponsor duties. The loaning club does not need to make an application for an endorsement or have a sponsor licence.
Where a player is permanently transferred the new club must make an application for the player, both for an endorsement and a visa, which would need to be approved before the player begins to play for the new club.
Sponsoring a Sportsperson or Coach
In order to sponsor a sportsperson under a Sportsperson visa or Temporary Worker visa, a company or organisation must be a sporting body, sports club, event organiser or other organiser operating, or intending to work in the sporting sector. Agents are not permitted to be the sponsors.
You will also be required to obtain endorsements from the governing body for your sport, which must be recognised by the Home Office, which will confirm that you are a genuine club or similar organisation, and have a legitimate requirement to bring migrants to the UK as sportspersons.
How Brexit Has Affected the UK Sporting Industry
While Premier League players are among the country’s top earners, after the Brexit transition ends on 31st December 2020, those coming from the EU can expect to be treated the same as stars from other parts of the world where they will be required to gain a work permit and meet conditions such as regularly playing for their national team.
The implementation of a new immigration system after 2020 may also mean that European players will have to obtain a “governing body endorsement” (GBE) to transfer to an English club, as is currently the position for non-European players.
A GBE is currently only issued in respect of “elite players”. This usually involves showing that they have international caps or high market value.
Will the knock-on effect of this be to give European clubs an advantage over Premier League clubs in terms of talent pipeline?
For months, the football governing bodies have been battling over how to deal with new immigration rules for overseas footballers playing in England after December 2020, which will come into force when freedom of movement between the UK and the 27-nation bloc ends.
The Football Association (FA) has seen this as a rare opportunity to introduce curbs on the number of foreign players at top clubs in an attempt to force clubs to develop more local talent that will boost England’s national team. The FA had initially demanded a reduction in the maximum number of non-homegrown players allowed in each team’s 25-player squad
from 17 to 12.
FIFA transfer rules prohibit the international transfer of footballers under the age of 18. One exception to this rule is where the transfer is within the EU (FIFA Regulation 19). Currently, under EU legislation, homegrown players are counted as those registered with the FA for at least three years before they are 21 years old, regardless of nationality.
This has previously allowed top English clubs to scoop some of the best European players aged between 16 and 18; however, the rule is expected to change so that, after 31st December 2020, only players from the UK home nations - England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will be counted as homegrown.
The Premier League is fighting the proposals, suggesting they will harm one of the country’s great international exports, with teams stocked with the world’s best players viewed avidly across the planet.
To gain agreement for quota changes, the FA has offered to loosen the criteria for all overseas players to gain work permits to play in England, which could open the door to less- established players from places such as South America.
The default position will be that unless there is an agreement for how the new immigration rules will be implemented all players will be subject to existing criteria unless new arrangements are agreed. The summer transfer window will, therefore, be the final opportunity for Premier League clubs to overhaul their teams before a new UK immigration regime comes into force.
Horseracing seems to be particularly vulnerable to the imminent immigration rule changes with an existing shortfall of about 1,000 workers and about 10% of its workforce being from the EU.
Formula One would also seem to be highly vulnerable given the location of many teams and their reliance on cross-EU border just-in-time supply chains.
Rugby and cricket
A new immigration system may also affect quotas in rugby and cricket, and it will be interesting to see how the RFU and ECB approach foreign quotas post-Brexit.
Leading figures within cricket and rugby have expressed legitimate concerns about their ability to attract and retain top-tier talent amid uncertainty around the so-called ‘Kolpak Rule’, named after Slovakian handball player, Maros Kolpak.
In 2003, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) held that citizens of countries that have signed EU Association Agreements (free trade treaties between the EU and 78 African, Caribbean and Pacific countries) have the same right to free movement in the EU as Europeans.
Therefore, restrictions on their right to work, such as quotas on foreign players, would be unlawful.
The ‘Kolpak’ loophole has allowed many rugby and cricket clubs to sign players from countries such as South Africa, Tonga, Fiji and Samoa. However, following the end of the Brexit transition period, free movement of rights will end in the UK and so will presumably the ‘Kolpak Rule’. Existing players have only had their status guaranteed until the end of the season.
JMW’s immigration solicitors are experts in advising both teams and players on immigration to the UK and can offer professional legal guidance to those affected by Brexit-related changes.
Talk to Us
To speak to our friendly and professional immigration solicitors, call us today on +44203 675 7600 or allow us to give you a call back at a more convenient time for you by leaving your details via our online contact form.