Explained: Work permit rules for footballers coming to the UK

Any player from outside the EEA needs a work permit to come to the UK but the rules on how to get one are often misinterpreted.

Hampden Park is where work permit submissions and appeals are held by the Scottish Football Association.
©SNS Group

The regulations in place for a footballer applying for a work permit to move to a club in the United Kingdom remain frequently misunderstood and misinterpreted.

Various outlets, officials and supporters have quoted varied rules from the past, many of which remain relevant but have moved on from the assumed requirements for a footballer to be given the necessary immigration status.

Previously, a club would apply direct to the UK Government for a work permit, with the well-known requirement being that a player had to have played 75 per cent of his nation’s competitive games within the last two years to qualify.

Now, the relevant governing body must endorse any work permit application by a club before it is submitted to the UK Government, cutting down on the number of requests made directly to Government which are unlikely to succeed first time.

Who needs a work permit?

Any player who is over 16 years old and is not from the European Economic Area, which covers 32 countries aside from the UK requires a work permit to play for a British club.

A Commonwealth citizen with at least one grandparent who was born in the UK does not need to apply through the points based system. Such players will still require a work permit but go through a different process.

How to get a work permit

When a club signs a player who requires a work permit, they agree to sponsor the player to be in the UK, meaning they will provide the funds for his time in the country. A certificate of sponsorship is then produced by the club, which is then submitted to the relevant FA for them to consider an endorsement.

The Scottish FA’s rules on work permit endorsements follow the same guidelines as previously outlined by the UK Government. For the Scottish FA to give their approval, the player in question must have played 75 per cent of his nation’s competitive games – excluding friendlies – in the two years prior to the date of application.

Furthermore, the country the player is coming from must be in the top 70 of the FIFA rankings.

Failure to meet these requirements, unless it can be proven a player was unavailable for selection for a period of time, results in an automatic rejection of any application for an Scottish FA endorsement for a work permit certificate of sponsorship.

As of June 28, 2011, it costs an applicant £514 to apply by post for a work permit in the UK, or £850 in person to process the application on the same day. There is a reduction in cost for nationals from Croatia, Turkey or FYR Macedonia, with the same applications costing £459 and £765 respectively.

The appeals process

If an application is rejected, a club can then appeal to the governing body. An appeals panel will ultimately weigh up whether or not the player is, in their view, of the highest calibre and whether they would contribute significantly to the development of the game at the top level in the country.

That appeals panel typically sits within three to five working days of an appeal submission, although urgent hearings can be convened.

The panel is made up of three representatives from the relevant football bodies, typically officials from the league, the association and the player’s union. Up to three independent football experts, made up typically of former professionals, also sit on the panel.

An applicant club can object to an 'expert' being used on the panel up until 24 hours before the meeting is convened, sending their objections in writing to the relevant FA.

If an appeals panel does not find in favour of an applicant, no further application can be made until the subsequent season.

Status of immigration

The length of time a player can remain in the UK as a player depends on his grasp of the English language. There are two immigration statuses available to a player applying for a work permit: tier two and tier five.

Under tier two, a player can remain in the UK for an initial three years, with the possibility for an extension for a further two years. To qualify, the player must accrue 70 immigration points under the UK Government’s system. 50 are given for getting an FA endorsement, with 10 more given for being able to prove sufficient funding to remain in the country.

The final 10 are awarded on the basis of the player’s English. If the applicant comes from a predominantly English-speaking country, or has a degree from a course which was taught in English, the 10 points are subsequently awarded. Additionally, a player can sit an approved English language test upon their arrival in the UK to obtain tier two status.

Failing that, a player can apply for tier five status. Again, a certificate of sponsorship and proof of sponsorship is required but a visa is only valid for one year. However, the player can then sit an English language test within that year and apply to switch to tier two status.

The process simplified

A football association will endorse a certificate of sponsorship for a player if he has played 75 per cent of competitive games for a FIFA ranked top 70 nation over the past two years.

Failure to meet this requirement will see an application rejected, unless it can be proven a player was unavailable for selection due to injury.

A club may then appeal if the first application is rejected. An appeals panel will then convene to establish whether, in their view, the player's transfer would be of benefit to the game in the relevant country.

If they are in favour, the football association will then endorse the certificate, which then contributes the biggest part to the UK Government's criteria.

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