English football Visa

Why the new player visa laws are good for English football

July 5, 2023

With the transfer window open, there has been plenty of news about Premier League players being attracted to the Saudi Pro league, which has been investing heavily this year.

The signing of Cristiano Ronaldo was undoubtedly a line in the sand (no pun intended) which signalled Saudi Arabia’s intention to grow a competition which had previously rarely merited a mention.

Wolves’ Portuguese midfielder Ruben Neves, for instance, joined Al-Hilal for almost £50m, underlining the fact that the League is not just a resting place for over-the-hill players.

But English professional clubs have been at something of a disadvantage in recent years, with stricter qualifying criteria robbing them of some of the talented young players who come from smaller leagues or competitions.

Clubs had to wait until youngsters had played a certain number of international minutes or played at a relatively high level before they could be considered.

Meanwhile, clubs in Europe had the pick of these younger footballers and could then sell them on for a high fee if English clubs came circling.

Recent changes in visa requirements have been made to address this challenge, meaning that talented overseas players can come to England at younger age, before they are established internationals.

The Football Association (FA) and the UK Home Office have now changed the Governing Body Endorsement (GBE) criteria for international footballers entering the UK.

Under the new rules, the FA can now issue ‘International Sportsperson’ endorsements without adhering to the previously stringent points-based system.

This means that clubs can now sign players who exhibit significant potential, rather than solely focusing on those already considered elite.

And to prevent the leagues being swamped with players that block the pathways for homegrown talent, clubs will have to ensure that young English players get significant opportunities in order to retain their quota for the following year.

Emma Brooksbank, Expert Immigration Partner, Freeths, explained: “Clubs can now recruit young talent from smaller leagues around the world that would not previously have been eligible to play in England.

“Signing players at a younger age could actually mean lower transfer fees and thus more money to invest in the development of homegrown players as well as wider investment into local communities.”

The new Elite Significant Contribution (ESC) category broadens the number of domestic leagues around the world that young players can qualify from, while international appearances will still also count.

Ms Brooksbanks added: “The changes to GBE rules will certainly boost the English game and provide clubs with a wider pool of talent from which to draw.

“The revised visa system for elite players will provide a wide range of opportunities for football clubs in England. The fact that clubs also have their overseas visa quota assessed based on how much new homegrown talent they field during a season will ensure a healthy balance between national and international recruitment for football clubs – and that has to be for the benefit of the English game.”

While concerns about the impact on homegrown players are valid, the potential benefits in terms of enhanced competitiveness and increased investment in local communities cannot be ignored.

By David Alexander, MD Calacus PR

English football Visa