Siobhan Murphy
Posted on 19 Oct 2021

New immigration route announced for international sportspeople

At 09:00 on 11 October 2021, a new immigration route for international sportspeople was launched. The full Immigration Rules for sportspeople can be found here

Who can apply for an international sportsperson visa?

Elite sportspersons and qualified sports coaches who are internationally established and can make a significant contribution to the development of their sport at its highest level in the UK can apply for this visa.

How can a sportsperson obtain an International Sportsperson visa?

A sportsperson wishing to apply for a visa must be aged 16 or over and will need to follow a two-stage process:

  1. Obtain a Governing Body Endorsement from the Governing Body for the relevant sport.
  2. Apply for entry clearance or permission to stay under the international sportsperson visa route.

Each sport has its own Governing Body Endorsement (GBE) criteria agreed with the Home Office. These can be found in Appendix Sports Governing Bodies (here) and are responsible for issuing endorsements to certify that the applicant is "elite" for their relevant sport.

Once the GBE is issued, the sportsperson must be issued a valid CoS by their sponsoring club. Once the CoS is obtained, the applicant can make an online application for their visa within three months via the Government website. The application must meet the following requirements:

  1. any fee and Immigration Health Charge must have been paid;
  2. the applicant must have provided any required biometrics; and
  3. the applicant must have provided a passport or other travel document, which satisfactorily establishes their identity and nationality.

How long does an international sportsperson visa permit an individual to stay in the UK?

A person applying via this route must opt for entry clearance or permission to stay for one of two periods:

  1. 12 months or less, or
  2. between 12 months and three years.

Applicants seeking permission for a period of more than 12 months will also be required to meet the English language requirement, which is Level A1 on the Common European Framework of Reference for languages (basic proficiency). This is particularly crucial where clubs need to complete transfers quickly.

Where a successful application to stay for 12 months or less is made, the applicant will be granted permission to stay for whichever is the shorter of:

  1. up to 14 days after the period of employment stated on their CoS; or
  2. 12 months.

Subject to any application for an extension, where a successful application to stay for between 12 months and three years is made, the applicant will be granted entry clearance or permission to stay for whichever is the shorter of:

  1. up to 14 days after the period of employment stated on their CoS; or
  2. three years.

Is a visa required in advance?

Prior to 11 October 2021, it was possible for an international sportsperson to be granted permission to enter the UK at the border without a visa, provided that they were able to show their GBE and their CoS. This has now changed and sportspeople (based outside the UK) must undertake the visa application process overseas before traveling to the UK.

There are concerns surrounding this change, particularly where sports clubs may have previously relied on presenting evidence at the border to quickly recruit sportspersons for short periods of time. It is expected that this change to the rules will cause delays and increased costs for some sports teams.

An alternative may be to apply for a visitor visa, which permits certain sports-related activities, until an international sportsperson visa can be granted.

What is an international sportsperson permitted to do?

In addition to working for their sponsor, a successful applicant is permitted to study, carry out supplementary employment and carry out voluntary work. They will also be entitled to employment with their national team while their national team is in the UK, compete in British University and College Sport competitions, and undertake temporary engagements as a sports broadcaster.

The applicant will have no access to public funds.

How much does the visa cost?

The applicant sportsperson (and their partner or children, if applicable) will each need to pay an application fee, the cost of which depends on how long the applicant wants to stay in the UK. If this is less than 12 months, the fee is £244 per person. If the applicant intends to stay for longer than 12 months, the fee increases to £610 per person for those applying from outside the UK or £704 per person for those applying from inside the UK to extend or switch from a current visa. The applicant and any dependents will also each need to pay the healthcare surcharge, which is usually £624 per person, per year.

In addition, where the applicant has not been residing in the UK for 12 months or longer on the date of application, they must also satisfy a financial requirement. This requires the applicant to evidence that they have funds of at least £1,270 or, alternatively, their sponsor must confirm on the CoS that they will, if it is necessary, maintain and accommodate the applicant up to the end of the first month of their employment for an amount of at least £1,270.

For employers, the cost of a sponsor licence will depend on various factors, such as the size of the company and the number of employees. Where an employer is eligible to pay the small fee, the cost is £536. If the larger fee is payable, this is £1,476.

Can international sportspersons bring dependents?

Yes. Dependent partners and children can accompany international sportspersons.  Their visas will be granted in line with the international sportsperson's visa and they too can apply for settlement when the settlement requirements are met.

Is the international sportsperson visa a route to settlement?

Yes. Previously, an international sportsperson was not permitted to stay in the UK for over six years, which only gave them one year to apply for settlement. This limitation no longer applies. As such, settlement is an option where the applicant has permission as an international sportsperson and has, at any point during the five-year continuous residence period, been granted leave as an international sportsperson for a period exceeding 12 months.

Those who do wish to settle must, among other criteria, meet the English language requirement and be paid a basic pay of £35,800 a year. There has been some criticism surrounding this requirement as those playing in the lower leagues, including in newly emerging professional sports, will struggle to earn this sum. There are also concerns that pay in women's sport will often not reach this threshold.

What can sporting employers do?

Despite the welcomed changes, there is little that employers who currently sponsor international sportspeople need to do. Existing Sponsor Licenses will be converted automatically to the new system. As such, sportspeople and their dependants currently in the UK on the T2 and T5 routes will not be affected by these changes, but employers may find the new rules less administratively burdensome.

This article is for information purposes only and is not a substitute for legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Please contact Siobhan Murphy to discuss any issues you are facing.