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Immigration and Visa options for International Rugby Players

As international rugby players from around the world arrive in the UK for the start of the Rugby World Cup 2015, now seems as good a time as any to reflect on the immigration routes that are available to overseas rugby union professionals who wish to undertake sporting activities in the UK.

Whether you are a national of South Africa, Tonga, Samoa or indeed any of the other non-EU countries taking part in the Rugby World Cup, in order to play professional rugby in the UK you will normally need to have a visa under one of the tiers of the points-based system. The points-based system has special categories and rules for those in the sporting industry, both professional and amateur. In most categories you will have to be sponsored by an employer. However, if you are going to be in the UK briefly, or for a single event or activity, one of the visitor visas may be appropriate.

The main immigration routes available to international rugby players (and other sportspersons) are:

  • Visit (Standard) – Business Sports visa;
  • Permitted Paid Engagement Visitor visa;
  • Tier 2 Sportsperson visa;
  • Tier 5 Temporary Worker visa.

The Visit (Standard) – Business Sports visa is for non-EEA nationals who are seeking to come to the UK to take part in a sports tournament, event or series of events. You must be over the age of 18 and not intend to work while in the UK, otherwise than as permitted. You must also be able to show that you can maintain and accommodate yourself for the duration of your stay, that you intend to leave the UK and that you can meet the cost of your onward journey. If you visit the UK with a Visit (Standard) – Business Sports visa, you will be allowed to stay in the UK for up to 6 months.

The Permitted Paid Engagement visa category is for non-EEA nationals who are seeking to come to the UK to perform a specific task, for which they will be paid, without having to be sponsored under the points-based system. You will need to demonstrate that you are a full time sports professional outside the UK and have been invited to a pre-arranged engagement by a sporting organisation in the UK. You will also need to show that you can maintain and accommodate yourself for the duration of your stay and that you intend to leave the UK. If you visit the UK as a Permitted Paid Engagement Visitor, you will be allowed to stay in the UK for up to 1 month.

The Tier 2 Sportsperson visa is designed specifically for elite sportspersons who are internationally established at the highest level, whose employment will make a significant contribution to the development of their sport at the highest level in the UK, and who will base themselves in the UK. Your employer must already hold a Tier 2 Sponsor Licence in the Sporting category and your application must be endorsed by your sport’s appropriate governing body, as recognised by the Home Office. Once the sport’s governing body has endorsed your application, your employer will be able to issue you with a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS). The CoS will confirm the details of your proposed employment in the UK and must be used to apply for a visa.

In order to qualify for a Tier 2 Sportsperson visa for the UK, you will need to show that you have obtained a job offer in the UK, the job offer is from a licensed UK club, organisation or company, the governing body for your sport has endorsed your application, you have been issued with a valid certificate of sponsorship by your employer, you have knowledge of English to the required level and you have enough money to support yourself without relying on public funds. If your sponsor is a limited company, you must not own more than 10% of its shares, unless your gross salary is £155,300 or more.

Your leave to remain in the UK may be granted for up to 3 years, after which you can apply for an extension. Each time you extend your Tier 2 (Sportsperson) visa you must have a fresh endorsement from your sport’s governing body and a new CoS. You must work for your sponsor in the job described in your CoS. However, you may do a second job, play for your national team in the UK, temporarily work as a sports broadcaster, do voluntary work and study, as long as this does not interfere with the job that you have been sponsored for. You can remain in the UK as a Tier 2 Sportsperson for a maximum period of 6 years. However, after 5 years’ leave to you may be eligible to apply to settle in the UK.

The Tier 5 Temporary Worker (Creating and Sporting) visa is for sportspersons who wish to work in the UK for a temporary period. To apply in this category you must be sponsored to come to the UK as a sportsperson by an employer holding a Tier 5 sponsor licence. You will be permitted to come to the UK for up to 12 months. To qualify for a Tier 5 Temporary Worker visa in the sporting sub-category, you must be either a sportsperson (or a member of a sportsperson’s entourage) who is internationally established at the highest level in your sport, or your employment must make a significant contribution to the development and operation of your sport in the UK. In all cases you must be endorsed by the appropriate governing body for your sport. The endorsement will confirm that your employment meets the criteria above and that your post could not be filled by a suitable settled worker.

Coaches, clubs and event organisers can also enter and remain in the UK via the above immigration routes.

Contact Us

For professional advice on the full arrange of UK visas available to sportspersons who wish to visit, or work in, the UK, contact our specialist immigration barristers in London on 0203 617 9173 or complete our online enquiry form.


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