Tiran Gunawardena

immigration issues for footballers and their families: part 1

Tiran Gunawardena
immigration issues for footballers and their families: part 1

Immigration issues for footballers and their families: Part 1

The sports team at Mills & Reeve have written extensively and have been quoted heavily on the potential impact of Brexit on UK, European and global football at large. However, there have been some new key developments since the referendum in June 2016 relating to immigration and specifically, footballers.

We will explain these immigration-related developments and illustrate how they apply to footballers in a two-part series.

In Part 1, we provide an update on these developments as they apply to footballers.

In Part 2, to be published tomorrow, we will share a case study involving Reevaldo’s long-time girlfriend, Carolina, as she navigates the immigration process in order to join Reevaldo in England.

As always, don't miss the footnotes --> 1 <-- which contain links to useful documents as well as additional insights on industry practice.


Are EU/EEA footballers in immediate danger of losing the right to play in the UK?

No, not at this stage. Until the government decides to give formal notice of the UK’s exit from the European Union under Article 50, the existing right to work arrangements continue. Even when notice has been given, there will be a period of negotiation with the UK’s EU partners in relation to future rights to work in the UK and in Europe, and to determine the rights of those already working.

Prime Minister Theresa May has set a deadline of 31 March 2017 to trigger Article 50 and formally announce the UK’s intention to leave the EU to the European Council. Whilst it is thought that this negotiation period is likely to take longer than 2 years, any extension to the 2-year time frame set under Article 50 will require the unanimous consent of the European Council (EC). Should the EC not unanimously approve an extension, the EU Treaties will cease to apply to the UK after this 2-year period.

Additionally, a December 2016 inquiry2 concluded that those EU/EEA citizens who are in the UK prior to Article 50 being triggered, should be given amnesty and offered permanent residence with all of the attendant rights, including the right to work. However, as of mid-December, Prime Minister May refused to grant blanket rights to EU/EEA citizens, and instead would only guarantee rights if and when the UK has finalised the terms of agreement with the EU and/or individual member states.3

Is this the end of The FA/Home Office points based system?

At this point, the form and procedures of future work permit criteria in football is unknown. As discussed at length in a previous Reevaldo entry, the current FA/Home Office work permit applications are judged on a points based system.

Currently, there are two different visas available to non-EU/EEA footballers – the Tier 2 (Sportsperson) visa and the Tier 5 (Temporary Worker – Creative and sporting) visa. However, Prime Minister May has said that the points based system will not work for EU/EEA nationals and is not an option going forward. To clarify, Prime Minister May was speaking generally and not about football specifically, and it may be that the points based system continues with regards to football, but it is ultimately unknown as to what the work permit criteria will be for foreign players post-Brexit, be they EU/EEA nationals or otherwise.

How can EU/EEA footballers stay in the UK post-Brexit?

EU/EEA footballers who are already in the UK, their clubs, and those advising them should be proactive. It is never too early to begin considering whether there are steps players and their families can take now to secure formal recognition of any existing or prospective rights to continue to live and work as footballers in the UK. Naturally, this applies to those EU/EEA nationals not playing football, but who wish to remain in the UK post-Brexit as well.

Players who have lived and worked in the UK for at least 5 years may qualify for permanent residence cards. Furthermore, those players who have already held a permanent residence card for at least 12 months may qualify to be naturalised as a British citizen, subject to demonstrating they are:

  • 18 or over;
  • of good character;
  • are still required to play by their club/to work for their club;
  • can demonstrate they have previously met the knowledge of English; and
  • have successfully passed the Life in the UK test.

Players, managers and others who qualify now or in the near future should consider applying for a permanent residence card, to ensure that they have the option to apply for naturalisation as soon as possible.

Estimates suggest there are around 3 million European nationals living and working in the UK who have had no need, until now, to document their rights to live and work here. Oxford University’s Migration Observatory recently suggested that if everyone applied for permanent residence cards, it would take 140 years to complete them, based on current processing turnarounds (approximately 25,000 per year, taking an average of 6 months). However, the UKVI are currently trialling an online application as a more efficient and less time-consuming alternative to the current 85-page paper form.

What about those who have been in the UK for less than 5 years?

Those who have spent less than 5 years working in the UK should consider applying for a Residence Certificate to formally prove the legitimacy of their residence in the UK. This may be helpful if, as part of the exit from the EU, the UK agrees to grant permanent residence to EU/EEA nationals residing in the UK, at a specified date.

If EU/ EEA nationals have married or are in a co-habiting long term relationship (“long term” is defined as at least 2 years) with a UK national, they may qualify for Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR). This is commonly known as “settlement,” and if they already hold settlement, they may qualify to become naturalised citizens.

Should EU/EEA footballers be prepared?

The possibility of needing to relinquish citizenship from another country and tax consequences mean that there may be very good reasons for EU/ EEA players and their families, and non-players and their families to wait and see before applying for naturalisation. However, at the very least, they should be asking questions, identifying the options and preparing for a potential application.

How can they prepare?

It will be key to have the necessary documentation in-hand, so it would be advisable to start collating the documentation which demonstrates time spent living and working in the UK, contracts, payslips, bank statements, tenancy agreements, deeds to purchased property, marriage certificates, and children’s’ birth certificates. Additionally, football clubs can expect to be asked to produce copies of documents no longer held by their players and support staff.

What about UK footballers playing in the EU?

UK citizens who are playing or working for European clubs, or may wish to in the future, should be considering whether they already have, or can obtain citizenship of another EU country through ancestry, marriage or residence. Irish parents or grandparents, for example, may provide such a right.

Thank you for reading Part 1, and stay tuned for Part 2 tomorrow, in which we will discuss the steps Reevaldo’s long-term girlfriend can take and the immigration options she has in order to join Reevaldo in the UK.

  1. Pretty cool, right?

  2. See, “Report of the Inquiry into securing the status of EEA+ nationals in the UK,” compiled by a non-partisan thinktank called British Future.

  3. See, Peter Dominiczak and Steven Swinford “Theresa May to set our ‘Brexit vision’ and warn UK will quit single market if it is not given control over borders,” The Telegraph, 4 January 2017.