Anyone who doubts the power of sports as a force for good in society only needed to watch the recent Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics. Great Britain came fourth in the Olympics medals table ahead of the Russian Olympic Committee, Australia, and the Netherlands, securing 22 gold medals, 21 silvers, and 22 bronze. In the Paralympics, Great Britain did even better, placing second with 41 gold medals ahead of the USA. Competing successfully in sports requires several ingredients; investment, great facilities, and access to the best trainers. It is also essential that top sports talent is able to come to the UK to compete, but also train and develop athletes based here. This is why the new International Sportsperson visa route, announced by the Home Office on 10th September 2021, is so welcome. But what is the new International Sportsperson route?
The new route is intended to make it easier for top-level sportspeople from around the world to live and work in the UK. The announcement covered not only sportspeople but also top talent in different
fields (more on this later in this article). The new Sportsperson visa is described as a ‘fast-track’ route and will open at 9 am on 11th October 2021. The route effectively replaces the outgoing Tier 2 (sportsperson) and Tier 5 (creative and sporting) routes (the Home Office is gradually phasing out any reference to these tiers).
Announcing the new route, Home Secretary Priti Patel stated, “We want to attract the world’s greatest minds at the crowning point of their careers, so the UK remains number one on the global leader board in sports, the arts, science, film and technology sectors….we focus on talent and skills, not where someone comes from, and the immigration changes we’re making today demonstrate this, making it much easier for the brightest and best to live and work in the UK”. A spokesperson for the Football Association (FA) said of the new scheme, “The FA welcomes the Home Office changes to simplify the rules required for a visa application for an International Sportsperson. Ensuring a faster system after obtaining a Governing Body Endorsement from the FA will allow for the world’s best footballers to enter the country more easily”.
The new International Sportsperson visa will combine the Tier 2 and Tier 5 routes into a single route and is separate to the Global Talent Visa. The route will be available to those who wish to come to the UK for 12 months or less, however, it will be possible to stay longer if further criteria are met (see below). In order to acquire a visa under the new scheme, applicants will require:
Each of the Sports Governing Bodies has a defined set of criteria which they will apply to all applicants to determine if they meet the definition of an elite sportsperson or qualified coach.
The precise rules and eligibility requirements are yet to be published on the Home Office website, however, it is expected that applicants will need to be an “elite sportsperson or qualified coach who is sponsored on a long-term contract to make a significant contribution to the development of sport at the highest level”, as is the case under the current rules.
Assuming the above requirements are met, applicants will be able to apply for an International Sportsperson visa, pay the required application fee, and enrol their biometrics (fingerprints, photo, and signature) at a local Visa Application Centre. Some applicants may be able to enrol their biometrics using the Home Office’s online identity mobile phone app (this is typically the case for EU and EEA nationals).
It is important to note that because clubs need to sponsor players or coaches under this scheme, rather like the points-based work visa scheme, they will need a sponsor licence before they can issue a Certificate of Sponsorship.
Whether you are an existing Tier 2 Sportsperson or T5 Creative and Sporting sponsor, or you plan to apply for a sponsor license in the near future, the new guidance explaining the rules for the new International Sportsperson visa route will not be available until 11th October 2021 when the scheme is launched. As this is more of a re-branding exercise, the process of issuing a Certificate of Sponsorship using the Sponsorship Management System (SMS) is expected to be broadly the same as it is now, and no significant changes are expected. If you need any assistance with acquiring a sponsor license, or making any adjustments to your procedures and systems in light of the new route, speak to an immigration Solicitor who will be able to assist you. And, of course, we will keep you up to date with the latest developments as they occur.
For assistance with your immigration law matter, phone us on 0121 777 7715 to make an appointment with one of our SRA Regulated Immigration Solicitors based in Birmingham and London.
Please note that this article does not constitute legal advice.