New immigration rules for sportspeople

From 1 January 2021, free movement of European nationals will end, and the UK will introduce a points-based immigration system. Under the new system, all EU and non-EU citizens will be treated equally which will completely transform the way in which EU migrants come to the UK to work.

Under the new rules, all EU citizens will need to apply for permission in advance and will be scored against a points-based immigration system within which they will have to meet a specific set of requirements for which they will score points. As an employer, you should be aware that sportspeople will also have some additional measures to contend with when applying for a visa to work in the UK.

There are two tiers within the points-based system under which sportspeople fall for the purposes of immigration:

  • Tier 2 (Sportsperson)
  • Tier 5 (Temporary Worker – Sporting)

International sportspeople must also have a confirmed job offer and their employment sponsored by a UK employer licenced by the Home Office. Additionally, they must have an endorsement from the relevant governing sports body.

Currently, if you want to employ someone who does not already have the right to work in the UK, you will need to sponsor them. All companies and organisations who want to sponsor their employees must obtain a sponsor licence. To sponsor a sportsperson under the Tier 2 or Tier 5 categories, you must be a sporting body, sports club, event organiser or other organiser operating, or intending to work in the sporting sector.

Obtaining an endorsement from the governing body for your sport - which must be recognised by the Home Office - currently applies only to sportspersons who don’t have the right to work in the UK. Each governing body will have its own set of requirements.

For example, the Football Association (FA) will only grant endorsement for a work permit to elite football players who are internationally established at the highest level. They must be considered to make a significant contribution to the development of their sport and to base themselves in the UK. There are also further requirements such as appearing in a certain percentage of international matches, depending on where their club ranks in the league of their home country.

It will be interesting to see if these requirements change at all when EU nationals no longer have the right to work in the UK. English football clubs in particular are keen to sign the best talent from across the EU in order to stay competitive in domestic leagues. Competitions have until now brought talented younger players from the EU in at a relatively early stage in the hope that they grow into some of their best players. This is something they will no longer able to do with ease if the immigration rules remain the same and perhaps at all, given that more junior players wouldn’t meet the strict endorsement requirements.

This is still very much developing and we will publish an update in due course when the rules have been clarified.


This information is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information given. Please contact us for specific advice on your circumstances. © Shoosmiths LLP 2024.



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