Football and Brexit – an update

Published on
5 min read

There have been some new developments since the referendum in June. We have put together a short article outlining the key developments as they relate to immigration and specifically, footballers.

The sports team at Mills & Reeve have written extensively and have been quoted heavily on the potential impact of Brexit on UK, European and global football at large.

There have been some new developments since the referendum in June, and in order to provide our clients and colleagues with an update, we put together an article outlining the key developments as they relate to immigration and specifically, footballers.

EU/EEA footballers are not in immediate danger of losing the right to play in the UK

Until the government decides to give formal notice of the UK’s exit from Europe under Article 50, the existing right to work arrangements continue. Even when notice has been given, there will be a period of negotiation with our EU partners in relation to future rights to work in the UK and in Europe, and to determine the rights of those already working.

Prime Minister Theresa May has set a deadline of 31 March 2017 to trigger Article 50 and formally announce the UK’s intention to leave the EU to the European Council. However, it is thought that this negotiation period is likely to take at least two years.

Additionally, a December 2016 inquiry concluded that those EU/EEA citizens who are in the UK prior to Article 50 being triggered, should be given amnesty and offered permanent residence with all of the attendant rights, including the right to work. However, as of mid-December, the Prime Minister has refused to grant blanket rights to EU/EEA citizens, and instead will only guarantee rights if and when the UK has entered into bi-lateral agreements with individual member states.

The end of The FA/Home Office points based system?

We have discussed the current FA/Home Office work permit criteria at length previously (on our website, in our Reevaldo series, and in a LawInSport article), and most will know that applications are judged by a points based system.

The visas available to non-EU/EEA footballers are currently the Tier 2 Sportsperson and Tier 5 Temporary Worker – Creative and Sporting visas. However, the Prime Minister has said that the points based system will not work for EU/EEA nationals and is not an option. To be clear, the Prime Minister was speaking generally and not about football specifically, and it may be that the points based system continues with regards to football, but it is ultimately unknown as to what the work permit criteria will be for foreign players post-Brexit, be they EU/EEA nationals or otherwise.

Staying in the UK post-Brexit – EU/EEA footballers

EU/EEA footballers who already in the UK, their clubs, and those advising them should ensure they are being proactive. It is never too early to begin considering whether there are steps these players and their families can take now to secure formal recognition of any existing or prospective rights to continue to live and work as footballers in the UK. Naturally, this applies to those EU/EEA nationals not playing football, but who wish to remain in the UK post-Brexit as well.

Players who have lived and worked in the UK for at least five years may qualify for permanent residence cards. Furthermore, those players who have already held a permanent residence card for at least twelve months may qualify to be naturalised as a British citizen, subject to demonstrating they are:

  • 18 or over;
  • of good character;
  • are still required to play by their club/to work for their club;
  • can demonstrate they have previously met the knowledge of English; and
  • have studied and passed the Life in UK test.

Players, managers and others who qualify now or in the near future should consider applying for a permanent residence card, to ensure that they have the option to apply for naturalisation as soon as possible.

Estimates suggest there are around three million European nationals living and working in the UK who have had no need, until now, to document their rights to live and work here. The Oxford University’s Migration Observatory recently suggested that if everyone applied for permanent residence cards, it would take 140 years to complete them, based on current processing turnarounds (approximately 25,000 per year, taking an average of six months). However, the UKVI are currently trialling an online application as a more efficient and less time-consuming alternative to the current 85-page paper form.

For those who have spent less than five years working in the UK should consider applying for a Residence Certificate to formally prove the legitimacy of their residence in the UK. This may be helpful if, as part of the exit from the EU, the UK agrees to grant permanent residence to EU/EEA nationals residing in the UK, at a specified date.

If EU/ EEA nationals have married or are in a co-habiting long term relationship (“long term” is defined as at least two years) with a UK national, they may qualify for Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR). This is commonly known as “settlement,” and if they already hold settlement, they may qualify to become naturalised citizens.

Be prepared

The possibility of needing to relinquish citizenship from another country and tax consequences mean that there may be very good reasons for EU/ EEA players and their families, and non-players and their families to wait and see before applying for naturalisation.

However, at the very least, they should be asking questions, identifying the options and preparing for a potential application.

How can they prepare?

It will be key to have the necessary documentation in-hand, so it would be advisable to start collating the documentation which demonstrates time spent living and working in the UK, contracts, payslips, bank statements, tenancy agreements, deeds to purchased property, marriage certificates, and children’s’ birth certificates. Additionally, football clubs can expect to be asked to produce copies of documents no longer held by their players and support staff.

UK footballers playing in the EU

UK citizens who are playing or working for European clubs, or may wish to in the future, should be considering whether they already have, or can obtain citizenship of another EU country through ancestry, marriage or residence. Irish parents or grandparents, for example, may provide such a right.

The sports team at Mills & Reeve have successfully helped foreign footballers navigate The FA and Home Office work permit process. We also have a business immigration team that specialises in securing the right to live and work for foreign employees and their families. For more information please contact Tracey Yates or Carol Couse.


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