How could Brexit and Immigration Impact your Football Club?

May 7, 2019

Brexit-fatigue or Brexit-anxiety has engulfed businesses across the UK. Often we consider football to be immune from the common problems which face many of us in the UK. However, there is growing evidence of concern among football clubs regarding the immigration status of current and future migrant footballers.

The Government has published a skills-based immigration White Paper setting out proposed new post-Brexit immigration rules which could have an impact on professional football clubs in the UK. There are plans to phase in the new immigration system from 2021. It is proposed that to employ footballers from within the EU from the likes of France, Italy, Spain or Germany could be subject to the same immigration restrictions as employing footballers from outside the EU.

Football clubs will need to be registered with the Home Office as a Sponsor Licence holder to employ overseas workers. The vast majority of football clubs throughout the UK are not currently registered as sponsors with the Home Office perhaps due to the criteria required to obtain a Governing Body Endorsement (GBE) from the likes of the Football Association (FA). The FA and the Premier League are not entirely in agreement about the recent immigration proposals regarding professional footballers. The FA sees Brexit as a chance to increase the number of English players in the Premier League, which it says will boost the chances of the national team by exposing more players to the best football. However, the Premier League has rejected this view, saying there is “no evidence” it would work.

On a positive note the Government have recognised the benefit of having highly skilled European migrant footballers employed in the UK. Football fans are used to seeing the likes of Eden Hazard, Virgil van Dijk and Paul Pogba grace our football shores. However, if professional football clubs need to apply to the FA for a GBE on behalf of a European national there will be added bureaucracy increased on The FA for processing visa applications of this nature.

It is perhaps worth considering that currently professional football clubs wishing to employ footballers from outside the EU need to evidence and demonstrate that the player is:

1. Internationally recognised at the highest level
2. The player’s employment will make a significant contribution to the development of football at the highest level in the UK.

Failing meeting the automatic criteria for an endorsement, the thresholds for wages and transfer fees are set high for only the most commercially successful football clubs to achieve. If European nationals are subjected to such criteria this could have obvious consequences on how football clubs do their business. Not to mention the impact this could have on current European footballers transfer prices without full assurances of their ability to come and work in the UK.

The existing requirements if applied to EU nationals could rule out the employment of many talented footballers who have not yet reached international level. The Government have clearly stated that it wishes to create one immigration system regardless of nationality with a greater focus on skills and experience.

There could also be a potential impact contained under FIFA’s Status and Transfer of Players Regulations under Art. 19.2(b) the exception relating to minor players being able to move prior to the age of 18 is limited to a transfer taking place within the EU or European Economic Area (EEA) and certain other obligations being met. The UK’s status outside of the EU could also create further complications within football.

The existing Sponsors Management System for visas will be substantially reformed during the 2020/21 season to provide a more ‘streamlined’ immigration system which is proposed to be easier for employers to navigate. With the addition of FA endorsements for EU players and with the Premier League being the richest league in the world with revenues reaching £4.5bn for 2016-17 it is perhaps difficult to see how any new system could be more ‘streamlined’ moving forward.

Jürgen Klopp, the Liverpool manager, said Brexit “makes no sense”. But conversely Neil Warnock, manager of recently relegated Premier League side Cardiff City, said he “couldn’t wait to get out of the EU” There are undoubted challenges ahead for Premier league clubs and immigration lawyers alike with Brexit on the horizon.

This article has been produced for general information purposes and further advice should be sought from a professional advisor. Immigration is a complex area of law for both corporates and individuals. Please contact our Business Immigration / Employment Team at Cleaver Fulton Rankin for further advice or information.

Conor McCrory, Associate, Immigration Law Team, Cleaver Fulton Rankin, Solicitors.