Football Player-General immigration

This Sporting Life: How can athletes and coaches work in the UK?


It cannot be doubted that Brexit will have an enormous impact on individuals relocating to the UK on a permanent or temporary basis. Sport in the UK will be no exception; the UK has a vast number of professional sports teams who rely on EU and non-EU players and coaches. These include football, rugby, cricket and basketball teams, and even those who participate in aikido, curling and yoga.

For a limited time, the UK’s membership of the EU enables athletes and coaches from the EU to enjoy their free movement rights and relocate to the UK to work within their desired sport at a professional or amateur level. Transitional arrangements will ensure that those who arrive in the UK prior to 31 December 2020 will be able to secure Pre-Settled Status and then Settled Status after 5 years continuous residence in the UK. If they arrive any later, subject to any possible extension to the transitional period (which the UK government is very clearly against), they will need to turn to our domestic immigration system to secure a visa to remain in the UK.

The UK’s domestic immigration system – which applies to non-EU sportspeople – is complex and strict. Players and coaches can seek entry to the UK with reference to Tiers 2 or 5 of the Points Based System. Tier 2 is a more permanent category and will enable individuals to secure indefinite leave to remain after 5 years continuous residence, while Tier 5 enables sportspeople to relocate to the UK for a temporary period of time (up to 12 months).

A player or coach may apply in the Tier 2 (Sportsperson) category if they are an elite sportsperson or qualified coach who is recognised by their sport’s governing body as being at the highest level of their profession internationally. They must also be in a position to demonstrate that their proposed employment in the UK will develop the sport in the UK at the highest level. It is for their sport’s governing body to assess whether to endorse the individual, and each governing body has its own published endorsement criteria.

Latitude Law published an article at the time of the 2018 World Cup which focused on when the Football Association will endorse football players and coaches. Other endorsing bodies, such as Basketball England, will consider endorsing top domestic professional league players, international players, players graduating from specific USA or Canadian colleges, and even those who perform community coaching and promotional work. It will certainly be difficult for amateur or semi-professional sportspeople to secure an endorsement under Tier 2.

A player or coach can apply in the Tier 5 (Creative and Sporting) category if they can demonstrate that they are internationally established at the highest level and/or will make a significant contribution to their sport at the highest level in the UK. An endorsement from the sport’s governing body is, once again, required. Whichever category the individual seeks entry with reference to, the endorsing body must be confident that the post could not be filled by a suitable settled worker in the UK.

Unfortunately, Tiers 2 and 5 of the Immigration Rules are extremely selective, and most of the time they only enable elite players or coaches to secure sponsorship. If the individual will be making a significant contribution to their sport at the highest level in the UK, the Tier 5 sub-category of the Rules can certainly benefit those who are not elite athletes, but the route only enables sponsorship for up to 12 months at any one time. It is extremely likely that the UK will not be so attractive for EU players and coaches, particularly those who play at a lower level, following our departure from the EU. Latitude Law can provide specialist advice in the Tier 2 and 5 categories of the Immigration Rules, as well as all other Brexit-related immigration issues.

If you would like to discuss your migration to the UK, contact our experts now on 0300 131 6767 .

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