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Footballers and Immigration: An insight into the visa process

As the transfer deadline day looms for UK football teams, many clubs will be anxious to sort out the visas of their latest illustrious star player, who they will be hoping to get on to the pitch as soon as they can. In this blog we will attempt to explain how immigration can hold up this process for clubs and players.

For those from within the EU, this process is relatively simple due to the freedom of movement between EU countries. However, those coming from outside the EU will need to make an application to the UKVI for permission to come and work in the UK.

Making this application can be a difficult process involving a vast amount of information. What a sportsperson will need to demonstrate will vary depending on where they are coming from and the status of the club they are joining. Items that they will need to submit with their application might include, for example, English Language tests, TB screening, bank statements for the previous three months. If they have any criminal convictions or ongoing cases abroad, this can add further delays to the process.

The hardest part for most individuals is to get the sponsorship from their club endorsed. That a UK football club is willing to spend millions of pounds on a player is insufficient for the UKVI.  The player will need to:

·         be an internationally established player at the highest level

·         make a significant contribution to the development of the sport at the highest level in the UK

·         demonstrate that the position could not be filled by someone settled in the UK.

This application will need to be endorsed by the Football Association. There are other regulatory bodies who will endorse applications for different sports.

The FA specifies the criteria necessary for a player to meet in order to demonstrate that they are an established player at the highest level. For this season, for a player to be eligible they must:

1. Have participated in at least 75% of his home country’s senior competitive international matches where he was available for selection during the two years preceding the date of the application; and

2. The player’s National Association must be at or above 70th place in the official FIFA World Rankings when averaged over the two years preceding the date of the application.

FIFA ranks over 200 clubs, so individuals from less than half these countries will ever be eligible to play in the UK (however, please note that FIFA has its own rules in relation to which national team an individual is eligible to play for).

These criteria are very strict and can create problems, particularly for young players who want to come and play in the English League but who are not yet able to show the two years of national selection required.

If a player cannot meet these criteria, their other options are fairly limited. While it is open to individuals to apply to come to the UK in any immigration category, most options will prohibit them from working as a Sportsperson during their stay in the UK. Even the Tier 1 (Investor) route which requires individuals to invest (currently) between £1 million and £10 million in the UK economy has a condition prohibiting employment as a sportsperson or coach.

For advice or assistance with applying for a UK visa as a professional footballer or other sportsperson, contact our immigration barristers in London direct on 0203 617 9173 or by email to


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