Pursuing a footballing career in the United Kingdom (UK) is a dream for many. And a difficult one. After all, football requires commitment, dedication and ability. There is the competition from peers. And yet, harder still is securing a football visa to travel to the UK to pursue a football career.
Aspiring professional football players from within the Economic European Area (EEA), and , are free to pursue their footballing career in the UK providing that they had exercised their rights in the UK before 31 December 2020. See our blog post about the impact of the UK’s departure from the European Union for information about the restrictions to freedom of movement.
For those outside of the UK or who are from outside of the EEA without permission to be in the UK, it is imperative to find a football club willing to sponsor a Tier 5 (Temporary Worker – Creative and sporting) visa or Tier 2 (Sportsperson) visa.
Tier 2 (Sportsperson) visas are issued for the length of the applicant’s contract or up to three years, whichever is the shorter period. There is the possibility of extending the visa up to a total of 5 years. Whereas the Tier 5 visa is issued for the length of the applicant’s contract or up to 12 months, whichever is the shorter.
The sponsoring club will be responsible for securing a Governing Body Endorsement and issuing a Certificate of Sponsorship.
Determining the correct visa option will depend on the applicant’s skills, experience and nature of their sporting career, as the immigration rules dictate that, a person wishing to play football in the UK must be internationally established at the highest level, and their employment must make a significant contribution to the development of their sport at the highest level.
This strict requirement was introduced in response to the Football Association’s concerns about the high percentage of overseas nationals, participating in the Premier League at the expense of homegrown talent. See: Dyke: Work permit changes will benefit English football.
Some feel that the threshold is now too onerous. There have been a high number of Tier 2 (sportsperson) visa refusals, leading some overseas footballers and coaches to look to the Tier 1 (Investor) visa or Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) visa categories. And yet, the Tier 1 visas specifically prevent applicants from working as a professional sportsperson or sports coach. This also applies to the Tier 5 (Youth Mobility Scheme) visa.
Pursuing a footballing career
For those from outside of the UK, wishing to pursue their footballing career in the country, the first step is to go to the website of the football club that you wish to play for.
Most football clubs in the UK have a global football scouting system, where they attend matches overseas in order to identify top talent. If an individual is identified as a potential elite or first team player, the club will help the person to arrange a football visa. Therefore, playing for your local football club is a good place to hone in on your craft and be spotted.
A large number of football clubs do not accept football CV s and speculative emails, though a few do. Some clubs post dates of upcoming trials on their website and may expect interested individuals to already have status in the UK or an appropriate visa in place.
The Professional Football Scouts Association (PFSA) represent Football Scouts all over the world and provide details on their site about upcoming trials as well as information about how to get scouted.
But be careful! The FA issued a warning about individuals, who may be falsely presenting themselves as licenced agents or football club employees, while claiming to be in a position to arrange all manner of football trials.
Please do not part with money, or arrange the transfer of funds to someone promising, by email or letter, that they can arrange a football trial. Please do your research and make background checks.
If you have any doubts about the promises made or doubts about the correspondence received, which claim to come from a club or agent/intermediary, the FA advise that you should contact The FA Financial Regulation team directly for advice.
First published on 24 February 2017. Updated on 24 April 2020 with guidance relating to pursuing a career in football in the UK.
Written by Carla Thomas – Managing Director at Thomas Chase immigration.
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