In the second in Penningtons Manches’ series of blogs for international athletes and their advisers, immigration expert Hazar El-Chamaa outlines the key legal points to consider when coming to compete in the UK.
This comes in the wake of athletes being denied entry on arrival or facing delays for failing to take into account immigration requirements. Given the risks of adverse immigration history and reputational damage, it is important to get legal advice early on to make sure any issues are resolved well in advance of a scheduled event.
Below we set out the key immigration and visa issues to be aware of. The information is relevant to both long-term stays (eg footballers staying to perform a five year contract) and shorter visits (eg tennis players staying for a few days/weeks to compete in a tournament).
Do I need a visa before travelling to the UK?
The answer to this question is no if:
In almost all other cases the answer would be yes and a visa would need to be obtained in your home country under the relevant route before travelling to the UK.
Which route should I come in under?
There are three possible relevant routes to the UK: Visitor; Tier 2 sportsperson; or Tier 5 temporary worker sporting sub-category. Choosing between them will depend on whether the activity you wish to undertake in the UK amounts to work (paid or unpaid) and the duration of your stay. Below we set out the relevant considerations for each route.
Standard visitor - this is a popular route for an athlete who is only coming to the UK to:
Points to note:
This is a sub-category of the Visitor visa under which professional athletes can enter the UK to carry out an activity related to their profession and be paid.
Points to note:
The athlete’s personal or technical staff employed by them overseas can enter under the visitor route to support their activities provided they are attending the same event. This is applicable if the athlete is entering under either the standard or permitted paid engagement visitor route.
These two routes are available to a professional athlete (and their staff) who will be coming to the UK to take up employment provided the criteria set out in the table below is met.
Points to note:
|Criteria||Tier 2 (sportsperson)||Tier 5 (sportsperson)|
|Be sponsored by a sporting body; sports club; events organiser; or other organiser operating in the sporting sector.||√||√|
|Sponsor must have the sponsor licence for the relevant category from the Home Office. To check this, follow this link.||
Endorsing body criteria
Be endorsed by the Home Office approved sport govering body for your specific sport. This needs to confirm that:
English language requirement:
How to apply?
As your application will need to be supported by your sponsor it is important to make sure they are involved in the application process. As the visa application can be complicated we also recommend that you obtain legal advice and assistance ahead of making any visa application.
Further information on how to apply can be found here.
How far in advance should I make my application?
You can apply a maximum of three months ahead of your anticipated start date in the UK.
How long will it take to process?
Visa processing times vary between countries but usually a decision should be made within two-three weeks and can be expedited for a fee. Visa processing times for your country can be found here.
Can I bring my family?
Yes if you are entering under Tier 2 or Tier 5 and provided any children are under 18. If entering as a visitor they will need to apply to enter as visitors in their own right.
What you can and cannot do if entering under Tier 2 / Tier 5:
There are certain conditions imposed on your stay in the UK. You will not be able to rely on public funds or start up a business. Your family members will also not be able to rely on public funds. Your spouse/civil partner however is able to work but not as a doctor or dentist in training or a professional sportsperson.
I don’t meet the requirements for these three routes, are there any alternatives?
Most immigration categories now have a prohibition on undertaking employment as a professional sportsperson (including as a sports coach). However, it may be that your family circumstances qualify you to enter under other immigration routes. Below we highlight the most common options:
Beware! Take care over the application:
Not only can rejections be damaging to future applications, (previous visa refusals will need to be declared on any subsequent visa applications) but the position may not be held open if you are not able to obtain your visa and enter the UK in time. For example, an athlete may be due to participate in Wimbledon or drive in the British Grand Prix but a visa refusal or failure to obtain a visa in time may result in them being unable to take part in the event.
This blog is for your information only. Please always seek legal advice if you are uncertain about any of the points or steps.
This article was first published as a blog on leading sports law website LawInSport in September 2017.