New guidelines issued by the British Home Office this week have left the situation in sport largely unchanged ahead of the summer transfer window. But an overhaul of the system under which football players and coaches are granted the visas required to move to Premier League and Championship clubs is expected in the autumn, with hopes that a deal might be reached to allow post Brexit exemptions for footballers from around the EU believed to be receding.
Stephen O’Flaherty, a solicitor with London law firm Lewis Silkin, feels that travel restrictions associated with the coronavirus pandemic may impact on overseas recruitment in this window. Practical elements involved in completing an international transfer like medicals and contract negotiations will become more challenging and clubs, in many cases, lack recent playing data on prospective transfer targets.
O’Flaherty believes the wider landscape will be largely unchanged for this window, which is due to open in two weeks, with talks between the English FA and Premier League expected to maintain the status quo on issues like quotas for home grown players.
It looks increasingly like being the last window in which EU citizenship will guarantee an entitlement to move.
“I think the hope was that something would be carved out from a sports perspective, but the government has been adamant from the outset that there would be no sector specific arrangements and it does seem unlikely now. That will be a huge change,” said O’Flaherty, whose firm advises a number of Premier League clubs on the immigration aspect of recruitment from abroad.
Irish players over 18 will not be affected, although the ability of those aged 16 or 17 to move to Britain will be largely curtailed unless Fifa changes its rules which presently allow such transfers only between EU or European Economic Area. If it does not, O’Flaherty suggests “it may be that it is seen as beneficial for young players who would have come from other EU countries to England, to move instead to Irish academies.”
At present, adult players seeking a visa to play in England must seek what is called a Governing Body Endorsement (GBE) from the FA. Many qualify automatically on the basis of the amount of football they have played over the previous two years for their international teams. Those who do not can appeal with points then awarded based on how much time they have played in the league they are coming from, that league’s status and whether his previous club has played in continental competition.
The transfer fee being paid is also a significant consideration as well as the size of the wages received. At present a player needs at least four points to get a recommendation from the appeals’ panel for a GBE and for the coming window a fee of around €13 million (more than twice what it was five years ago) will attract two points, with a fee of over €25 million earning three. A weekly salary of roughly €45,000 or more, meanwhile, brings two points.
A recommendation generally leads to the Home Office granting the visa.