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Explainer: The FA's policy on English clubs wishing to sign international footballers

As the World Cup gets under way in Qatar, many English football clubs will wish to keep an eye out to recruit the best talent from across the world in order to stay competitive in both domestic competitions and elite European club competitions. 

Recruiting international footballers

Apart from British & Irish footballers, and footballers from other nationalities who have been granted settlement in the UK, professionals (including EEA nationals) who wish to play for a professional football club in the UK will be required to apply for an International Sportsperson visa. 

In order to apply for an International Sportsperson visa, the following key requirements must be met:

  • Obtain a Governing Body Endorsement (GBE) from a relevant footballing governing body in the UK, i.e. Football Associations (FA) of England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland;
  • Be issued a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) from a professional football club in the UK which holds a sponsor licence;
  • Pass a relevant English language test at a minimum Level A1 CEFR; and 
  • Have sufficient funds to maintain yourself and your family members.

Here we’ll be focusing on obtaining a Governing Body Endorsement (GBE) from the Football Association of England (The FA). 

Obtaining a Governing Body Endorsement (GBE) from the FA

International footballers who require a visa to play professional football in England or undertake any employment duties for a football club in England (including participation at training and in friendly matches), must obtain a Governing Body Endorsement (GBE) from the FA. 

The FA has a complex set of criteria for assessing whether to issue endorsements as part of the Internationals Sportsperson visa requirements. The FA will consider whether the player is ‘internationally established at the highest level’ and/or whose employment will make a ‘significant contribution to the development of the sport at the highest level in the UK’

To satisfy the above, the FA will consider a number of factors which include: 

  1. International appearances during a specified period & the FIFA ranking of the player’s national team
  2. Domestic appearances in a qualifying league competition
  3. Continental appearances
  4. League position of the players last club
  5. Continental progression of players last club
  6. Quality of the Transferor Club

How are the GBE criteria satisfied?

In order to obtain a GBE and satisfy the criteria above, all players shall be assessed in accordance with a points-based system set by the FA.

Essentially, players will be required to obtain 15 points in order to obtain a GBE. However, an ‘Auto Pass’ may be applicable, as explained below.

1. International appearances & FIFA ranking

This is the only category which would permit a player to obtain an ‘Auto Pass’ or an automatic GBE, without the need to score points under any of the other criteria requirements as listed above. 

However, achieving an Auto Pass, will depend on a player’s percentage of number of appearances at international level over a 24-month period; and only if the player’s national team is ranked in the top 50 of the FIFA rankings. The higher the FIFA ranking of the player’s national team, the lower the percentage of appearances the player will be required to make. 

For example, a player for the current world champions, France, who are ranked within the top 10 of FIFA Rankings will only be required to have made 30% of appearances for his national team during the 24-month period preceding the endorsement application to get an Auto Pass. However, a player from Qatar (50 in the current FIFA rankings) would need at least 70% appearances for the national team if they were to automatically qualify for the GBE.

Nevertheless, if a player cannot satisfy an Auto Pass, the player can still achieve the required 15 points by satisfying points through international appearances and appearances at domestic level at explained further below.

Table below in relation to FIFA world rankings and player International Appearances 

Aggregated FIFA World Ranking of the Player's National AssociationPlayer's International Appearances1-1011-2021-3031-5051+90-100%Auto PassAuto PassAuto PassAuto Pass280-89%Auto PassAuto PassAuto PassAuto Pass170-79%Auto PassAuto PassAuto PassAuto Pass060-69%Auto PassAuto PassAuto Pass10050-59%Auto PassAuto Pass108040-49%Auto PassAuto Pass97030-39%Auto Pass1086020-29%10970010-19%980001-9%87000

 

2. Domestic appearances in qualifying league competition 

In order to calculate the number of points a player can achieve through domestic appearances within the last 12 months of the GBE application, the FA have introduced a system of ranking domestic leagues into banding categories (bands 1-6), with more points being awarded for teams who are in Band 1 as opposed to teams who are in lower bands. 

Leagues in Band 1 include the English Premier League, Bundesliga, La Liga, Serie A and Ligue 1.

However, youth players (under the age of 21) can score more points based on a single appearance for the senior team of a club, regardless of the number of domestic minutes played (refer to final column within table below). 

Table below in relation to Domestic appearances in a qualifying league competition  

Player's Domestic MinutesBand 1Band 2Band 3Band 4Band 5Band 690-100%1210864280-89%119753170-79%108642060-69%97531050-59%86420040-49%75310030-39%64200020-29%00000010-29%0000001-9%000000Debut for Youth Player654321

3. Continental appearances 

Similar to the banding levels of domestic leagues as explained above, The FA has also classified continental club competitions into bands 1-3, e.g. Band 1 - UEFA Champions League, Band 2 – Europa League and Band 3 will include any other continental competitions.

Table below in relation to Continental appearances 

Player's Continental Minutes Band 1 Continental Competition Band 2 Continental Competition Band 3 Continental Competition 90-100%105280-89%94170-79%83060-69%72050-59%61040-49%50030-39%40020-29%00010-19%0001-9%000

4. Final league position of the players last club 

In order to achieve points based on the final league position of the player’s last club, the player must have appeared on the matchday squad list for the last club for at least one match in its domestic league competition; and the player must have played at least 1% of the minutes for his previous club in a domestic cup competition. 

However, if a player’s former club wins the league e.g., Premier League, and thereby also qualifying for a continental competition such as the UEFA Champions League, the player will only be granted 6 points for winning the Premier League, and will not be permitted to add the additional 5 points for qualifying for the UEFA Champions League.

Table below in relation to Final league position of the players last club 

Last Club's Final League PositionBand 1Band 2Band 3Band 4Band 5Band 6Title winner654321Qualified for group stages of a Band 1 Continental Competition / league conference winner*543210Qualified for qualifiers of a Band 1 Continental Competition432100Qualified for group stages of a Band 2 Continental Competition321000Qualified for qualifiers of a Band 2 Continental Competition210000Mid-table100000Relegation000000PromotionN/A11111

5. Continental progression of player's last club 

Points can also be awarded depending on how far the player’s last club progressed in Continental Competitions. Similar to criterion 3 above, the number of points will depend on the banding of the competition. 

For reference purposes, Band 1 in relation to continental competitions include the UEFA Champions League and Copa Libertadores. Band 2 includes the UEFA Europa League and Copa Sudamericana. All other continental competitions fall under the Band 3 category.

Similar to criterion 4 above, a player shall be granted the number of points set out in Table 5 in respect of the continental progression of the player’s last club, provided that the player appeared on the matchday squad list for the player’s last club for at least one match in its domestic league competition or a Continental Competition or, the value of the player’s domestic cup minutes was at least 1%, during the Last Season

Table below in relation to Continental progression of player’s last club 

Continental Progression Band 1 Continental Competition Band 2 Continental Competition Band 3 Continental Competition Final1072Semi-Finals961Quarter-Finals850Round of 16740Round of 32630Group stage520Other000

6. League quality of the transferor club

Finally, a player will also be awarded points based on which ‘Band’ League (1-6) he is transferring from. Higher points are awarded for Band 1 clubs (12) as opposed to Band 2 (10), Band 3 (8), Band 4 (6), Band 5 (4) and Band 6 (2). 

Points under this category will only be awarded if the player appeared on the matchday squad list for at least one match in the domestic league/continental competition; or the value of the player’s domestic cup minutes was at least 1% during the 12 months preceding the GBE application.

Table below in relation to League quality of the transferor club 

Band of Player's Current Club Points Band 112Band 210Band 38Band 46Band 54Band 62

If an endorsement is secured, does that mean the visa will be approved?

Even if an endorsement can be secured for a player, there are other key requirements contained in the Immigration Rules that a player must meet, including an English language requirement if they’re coming to the UK for more than 12 months; and more importantly, being offered a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) from the club who wish to recruit the player.  

What happens if a player cannot satisfy an 'Auto Pass' or obtain the required 15 points for a GBE?

If a player is unable to achieve an Auto Pass or the required 15 points for a GBE, the club behalf of the player may request an Exceptions Panel to consider the application by way of an appeal. 

The FA will then appoint an independent panel which shall include one legally qualified chair and two panel members who have relevant experience to consider the appeal.

An appeal can be brought to the Exceptional Panel if: 

  1. a player achieves between 10 and 14 points in accordance with the criteria as listed above; and the club can evidence that exceptional circumstances prevented the player from achieving 15 points; or 
  2. if the player is a youth player, the club can evidence that the youth player shows significant potential and is of sufficient quality to enhance the development of the game in England

Following the refusal of a GBE application or an unsuccessful review by the Exceptional Panel, the player will have no further opportunity to apply for a GBE in the same transfer window unless the player’s circumstances change.

If you would like to speak with an expert immigration lawyer about an International Sportsperson visa or in relation to a Governing body Endorsement, call Latitude Law on 0300 131 6767 or complete our online enquiry form.

 

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