What will the future Immigration Rules hold?
We are all used to the current system, where an EU national player can arrive in the UK and start playing for any club, at any level, without the club having to consider work permits or visas. This has been cited as a reason for the fall in the number of Scottish players in the top level of football but it has been a fact of life in all sports.
The Government White Paper on Immigration suggests that from January 2021 EU nationals will be brought within existing work visa rules, albeit these will be amended, and this would mean that future EU players will need to qualify for visas. At the moment this process involves 2 steps:
- The player being endorsed by the appropriate sports governing body. Each sport has their own rules for this, but using Scottish football as an example this requires a certain percentage of international appearances varying depending on how highly their home country is ranked in the FIFA rankings.
- The individual player making a visa application.
If this process is followed under a new system, the implications will be:
- Visas are likely to be restricted to the top levels of any sport. Clubs in lower leagues or amateur clubs looking to sign someone from the EU are unlikely to receive one of the limited endorsements available;
- The process will take much longer than previously. Even if the Home Office streamline the process, their intentions are that the visa process will still take a minimum of 2 - 3 weeks. This may seem a short period, but compared to the current rules where an EU national can be signed and play the next day it will be a significant change.
Overall, this means that there is likely to be a reduction in the number of EU nationals playing in Scotland, and even at the highest level there will be an increase in the amount of red tape around transfers.
What should players already in the UK do?
Given it is expected to be harder to sign EU nationals in the future, there is likely to be an increased emphasis on retaining existing talent. This means players already in the UK should be considering making applications for Pre Settled and Settled Status under the EU settlement scheme. That will allow them to continue to play here and transfer to other UK clubs without having to worry about visa.
Interestingly, the EU Settlement scheme also allows people who have previously lived in the UK for 5 years to make applications even if they have since left the UK, provided they haven't been absent for 5 years. This means ex-players, who have left the UK, could return to the UK in the future without having to apply for a visa under the new system, and their increased availability may make them more attractive to UK clubs in 2021.
Regardless of whether there is a deal or no deal, this registration scheme will be open to EU nationals and any EU nationals living in the UK should consider making applications now. If you are a sportsperson affected by Brexit please get in touch with our Sports Law team and we can help make sure you are eligible to continue playing in the UK after Brexit.