A Deep Dive into the Dynamics of Immigration for Pre-Season Football Tours
07 February, 2023
Over the last decade or so, a significant trend that has profoundly altered the nature of international football is the mobility of players across international borders.
Immigration in sports, particularly in football (soccer), is an ongoing phenomenon with no clear beginning or foreseeable conclusion. A lack of deep insight into the experiences of individual players and clubs often marks discussions around this topic.
In this article, we delve into the global mobility of professional football players to better understand the intricacies of visa and work permit requirements and procedures.
Football Players and Clubs: Entry into the UK
In the UK, immigration is becoming more crucial regarding football, the nation’s most well-loved sport.
The introduction of the new points-based immigration system is leading to unique challenges, particularly in terms of the footballing landscape.
This shift marks a notable transformation for football clubs seeking to hire talent from abroad. Before, only those from outside the European Union, including players, coaches, and managers, needed a valid visa to participate or work in the UK.
International Sportsperson Visa
At present, the primary immigration route of entry for professional EU (as well as from outside the EU) athletes, managers, and coaches who wish to play/work in the UK is the International Sportsperson Visa route. This pathway was established on 11 October 2021. Essentially, it merges the previous Tier 2 Sportsperson and Tier 5 Creative and Sporting visas into a single category.
How to Obtain An International Sportsperson Visa
International Sportsperson Visa requirements
To apply for an International Sportsperson visa, EU and non-EU nationals must be sponsored by a football club with a Home Office Sponsor Licence and have successfully applied for a Governing Body Endorsement (GBE) from The FA.
A GBE is an endorsement issued by a relevant sporting body that a sportsperson moving to the UK to play football is of an international calibre at the pinnacle of their sport and/or that their employment will significantly contribute to the sport’s top-tier development within the UK. To determine eligibility, the relevant sports governing body must publish new visa rules and criteria against which individuals will be assessed.
In English football, the Football Association (FA) is the relevant governing body responsible for granting GBEs to all EU and non-EU nationals migrating to the UK. The football association’s most recent GBE criteria became effective on 1 January 2022.
From the professional footballers’ perspective, their qualification for a GBE is judged based on various factors, such as their international playing experience, the calibre of the league and the player’s previous club.
Players can automatically qualify for a GBE if they meet a certain percentage of international appearances for national teams ranked within the top 50 FIFA world rankings. The required frequency of appearances varies according to the national team’s FIFA ranking. Should a player’s international appearances caps satisfy the ‘Auto Pass’ threshold stipulated by the FA, they will be directly awarded a GBE.
Additionally, the FA has set GBE rules for roles including managers, assistant managers, and directors of football, aiming to ensure that GBEs are granted solely to those of exceptional quality which can substantially contribute to advancing football at the top level, specifically within the Premier League, English Football League (EFL), and Women’s Super League (WSL).
International Sportsperson Visa process
Obtaining a Sponsor Licence involves football clubs applying to the Home Office and meeting prescribed eligibility criteria. Once granted, a Sponsor Licence enables football clubs to utilise the International Sportsperson pathway for players and coaches, assuming the eligibility requirements for each individual’s application are also met.
Only those individuals who meet the necessary criteria will receive an endorsement from the FA, followed by the issuance of a Governing Body Endorsement (GBE). The club will then be at liberty to issue the Certificate of Sponsorship to the individual. The subsequent step involves the individual applying to the Home Office with the obtained GBE and Certificate of Sponsorship for a visa (either for entering the country or for permission to stay in the UK) via the International Sportsperson visa route.
The primary constraint is that the maximum number of overseas players that English Premier League and EFL Championship football clubs can recruit through this new significant exemption path is capped at four at any given time. However, that number will vary depending on the number of minutes on the pitch for professional players in their squad eligible to play for England. The cap is lower for clubs in EFL League One and Two.
Additional limitations could affect the hiring of foreign youth players through the International Sportsperson route.
Given these additional visa requirements, particularly for EU national players, managers, and coaches, clubs need to be mindful of allowing sufficient time for visa processing. Where possible, they will almost certainly want to use the various priority services made available by UK Visas and Immigration.
Please contact our immigration team today for guidance on sponsor licence applications and navigating UK visa and immigration procedures.
Football Clubs visa options: Travelling outside the UK
English football clubs often organise training camps abroad to engage with supporters and enhance their visibility in specific regions. Additionally, these excursions offer a refreshing change of scenery for the athletes, known as Pre-season tours.
Even though we’re only at the midpoint of the 2023/24 season, the groundwork for the 2024/25 Pre-season is already in full swing. Many of the globe’s leading teams have reconvened at their training bases and are poised to embark on international tours, facing off against other European clubs in pre-season matches.
In certain nations, particularly for Pre-season training and friendly matches, athletes can receive visas upon arrival. However, this convenience largely hinges on the athlete’s nationality rather than being extended to the entire squad. Elsewhere, athletes, their teams, or clubs might need to arrange visa applications well in advance. In such scenarios, the countries and teams typically handle the visa application process to minimise the likelihood of refusal.
For example, sports professionals visiting the United States must seek a P-1 visa. If approved, an athlete could be granted permanent residency and the opportunity to bring their family along, assuming they’ve shown outstanding sports achievements. The P-1 visa is also available to foreign nationals and teams recognised internationally for an elite significant contribution intending to participate in a globally acknowledged event in the United States.
Understanding Visa Requirements and Processes
The passport to a seamless Pre-season football tour involves dissecting various visa requirements, application processes, and timelines. This is crucial as it may cause an athlete to miss huge career opportunities and hamper a team’s performance in a domestic or continental competition.
Below, we’ll explore different types of visas and work permits applicable to pre-season football tour personnel:
Description: Designed for professional athletes participating in sports events, including football tours.
Documentation Required: Proof of professional athlete status, sporting event details, and often an invitation from the organizing body.
Application Process: Initiate the process well in advance to accommodate unforeseen delays. Collect and submit documents proving professional athlete status, details of the football tour, and any required endorsements.
Description: Applicable for individuals engaged in business-related activities during the tour, such as promotional events, meetings, or sponsor engagements.
Documentation Required: Letters of invitation, details of business engagements, and proof of professional status.
Application Process: Thoroughly research and understand the specific business-related regulations of the destination country. Provide documentation related to the purpose of the business activities during the tour.
Description: Essential for players and staff making layovers or transiting through countries to reach their final destination.
Documentation Required: Travel itineraries, proof of onward travel, and any necessary visas for the final destination.
Application Process: Submit detailed travel itineraries and proof of onward travel. Ensure compliance with transit regulations of each country in the travel route.
Description: Relevant for athletes participating in events with an entertainment or public performance aspect.
Documentation Required: Event details, contracts with event organizers, and any additional documentation proving the entertainment nature of the tour.
Application Process: Include comprehensive event details, contracts with event organizers, and any additional documentation proving the tour’s entertainment nature.
Pre-season tournaments worldwide can be crucial to football clubs’ annual revenue. Thus, any potential disruptions to these tours due to immigration issues are a major worry.
Need assistance with immigration matters?
Away from the pitch, our team further assists with the visas forexecutives, and professional staff. Our expert immigration team are on hand to help with various issues, including work visa and permit applications.
Contact us here to find out how we can support you today.
Please note that the content of this blog is intended solely for general information purposes and should not be considered exhaustive legal advice. It’s advisable to seek professional counsel for any specific concerns.