Could new Immigration rules lead to football clubs scoring an own goal?

UK Immigration rules are due to significantly change on 1 January 2021 as the Brexit transition period ends on 31 December 2020. The Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill will end rights to freedom of movement of persons under retained EU law. Further information on this can be found here.

EEA nationals (includes those from EU countries, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein) and their family members arriving in the UK on or before 31 December 2020, will not be caught by the changes, rather having until 30 June 2021 to register on the EU Settlement Scheme. This scheme enables them to secure immigration status, either pre-settled status (limited leave to remain) or settled status (indefinite leave to remain), to continue living in the UK after 30 June 2021.EEA nationals and their family members arriving in the UK for the first time from 1 January 2020, will be subject to domestic immigration legislation and will require visa status to work lawfully in the UK.

How this applies to English Football 

Post Brexit, clubs will not be able to sign players freely from the EU. Players from EU countries who want to play in the Premier League or EFL will be required to gain a Governing Body Endorsement (“GBE”). Qualification for an endorsement will be based upon senior and youth international appearances, the quality of the selling club and club appearances, based on domestic league and continental competition minutes. Further information on the application process and criteria can be found here.On 1 December 2020, The Football Association (“The FA”) announced a plan for overseas players in England, providing a framework for Premier League and English Football League (“EFL”) clubs to sign overseas players after the UK leaves the EU on 31 December 2020.Clubs in the Premier League and EFL will have to:

  • Secure the required Sponsor Licence if they do not already hold one;
  • Obtain a GBE from the FA for their overseas players;
  • Ensure all GBE applications are submitted well in advance of 12pm on transfer deadline day (i.e. 1 February 2021)
  • Ensure all overseas players use their GBE to secure the required visa clearance before a player is permitted to undertake any employment duties for the club (including training and friendly matches).

Rights of Appeal In the event that 'exceptional circumstances' prevented a player from achieving the required points for the GBE, a club can request that the Exceptions Panel review the player's application. The Chair of the Exceptions Panel will determine whether the application evidences reasonable grounds that exceptional circumstances prevented the player from achieving the required points and the Chair will decide whether to recommend that the application is granted exceptionally. If the Exceptions Panel recommends to The FA that a GBE be granted, The FA will consider whether to grant a GBE but is under no obligation to do so. The Exceptions Panel will only be available for the January 2021 transfer window.

Head to our Brexit Exchange where you will find all the latest updates and developments from our experts, regarding Brexit and how that affects businesses and individuals in a range of areas.


The content of this page is a summary of the law in force at the date of publication and is not exhaustive, nor does it contain definitive advice. Specialist legal advice should be sought in relation to any queries that may arise.

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