UKVI Tightens Immigration Rules For Athletes

Posted on Friday February 8, 2019

Mohit Pasricha

UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) has made significant amendments to the Immigration Rules (Rules) in relation to professional sportspersons. The new Rules came into effect on 10 January 2019 and implements a far stricter interpretation.

If an individual is in the UK under a visa that limits work as a professional sportsperson, they will need to familiarise themselves with the “Professional Sportsperson” amendments in order to understand UK immigration restrictions and to ensure that there are no accidental breaches.

Previously, a “Professional Sportsperson” was defined as “someone, whether paid or unpaid, who:

  • is providing services as a sportsperson, playing, or coaching in any capacity, at a professional or semi-professional level of sport; or
  • being a person who currently derives, who has in the past derived or who the Secretary of State has reason to believe is seeking in the future to derive, a living from playing or coaching, is providing services as a sportsperson or coach at any level of sport, unless they are doing so as an “Amateur” in a charity game”

However, the Rules replaced the definition of a “Professional Sportsperson” with the following:

“someone, whether paid or unpaid, who:

  •  is currently providing services as a sportsperson, playing or coaching in any capacity, at a professional or semi-professional level of sport;
  • is currently receiving payment, including payment in kind, for playing or coaching that is covering all, or the majority of, their costs for travelling to, and living in the UK, or has done so within the previous four years;
  • is currently registered to a professional or semi-professional sports team, or who has been registered within the previous four years. This includes all academy and development team age groups;
  • has represented their state or regional team within the previous two years, including all youth and development age groups from under 17s upwards;
  • has an established international reputation in their chosen field of sport;
  • engages an agent or representative, with the aim of finding opportunities as a sportsperson, and/or developing a current or future career as a sportsperson, or has engaged such an agent in the last 12 months; and/or
  • is providing services as a sportsperson or coach at any level of spors, unless they are doing so as an “Amateur” in a charity event.”
    The new definition is clearly lengthier and wide-ranging with the potential to give rise to harsh restrictions. For example, if an individual takes part in an amateur “non-charity” event, they may inadvertently breach the Rules.

Furthermore, students in the UK on sports-related courses may be restricted from participating in university organised work placements and volunteering opportunities, such as placements in sports clubs and/or community projects.

Moreover, if an under-18 sportsperson is in the UK through a parent’s restricted visa, the child will likely endure restrictions to work as a sportsperson, whether paid or unpaid, which may result in a loss of a serious sporting-career opportunity.

Athletes may need to consider alternative means of entering or staying in the UK if they wish to undertake professional sporting activities. The Tier 2 (Sportsperson) visa can be applied for by elite sportspersons or qualified coaches if the following criteria are met:

1) The sportsperson must be recognised by their sport’s governing body as being at the highest level of their profession internationally;
2) The sport’s governing body must endorse the application;
3) The sportsperson’s employment must develop their sport in the UK at the highest level; and
4) The sportsperson is from outside the European Economic Area and Switzerland.

Additional criteria must then be met such as demonstrating proof of knowledge of the English language, a certificate of sponsorship and meeting a personal savings requirement.
Surprisingly, sports governing bodies do not appear to have yet lobbied against the stricter Rules, which may now considerably affect both professional and amateur athletes seeking to develop a career as a sportsperson.

If you require any assistance with your sports immigration matters, please contact the Sports Team at Mackrell. Turner Garrett.