Why new VISA laws are good for English football

The recent change in visa rules for talented young overseas footballers provide a significant opportunity for Premier League and English Football League (EFL) clubs.

Other European leagues have taken advantage of England’s stricter visa rules, particularly since Brexit, to sign and develop talented young players who then end up moving and attracting substantial transfer fees when bigger clubs, often in England, come in for them.

The Football Association (FA) and the UK Home Office have announced a change in the Governing Body Endorsement (GBE) criteria for international footballers coming into the UK, which will to allow clubs to sign players who show significant promise rather than those who might already be considered to be elite.

The FA can now issue ‘International Sportsperson’ endorsements that are not required to meet the strict points-based criteria that was previously enforced, which required international credentials for a footballer to be eligible to play in England.

Premier League and EFL clubs will be able to sign up to four overseas players under these new rules, and give them – and young English talent – sufficient playing time to retain their quota for the following season.

While there will justifiably be concerns about an influx of foreign talent blocking the way for homegrown stars, it’s hard to argue against the notion that the England national team has not gone further in tournaments consistently in recent years since higher quality players have moved to England from overseas.“The revised visa system for elite players will provide a wide range of opportunities for football clubs in England,” said Emma Brooksbank, Expert Immigration Partner.

“It means that 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 Brooksbank 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 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.”

How can Freeths help?

Freeths are experts in UK immigration and we understand how important it is to access talent from overseas.

We have a 100% success rate in securing visas for overseas candidates joining some of the UK’s largest national and international organisations in sport and beyond – and our expertise allows us to fast-track the visa process for football clubs and players.

Our expert immigration team will work closely with your club and with the FA to ensure we secure the required endorsement for your new signings.

Freeths dedicated sports and immigration practice will support your players and their family members throughout the visa process.

We are a top 50, national full-service law firm with international reach. Our specialist immigration team provide a highly responsive, speedy and personal approach.

If you would like to know more about the International Sportsperson visa route, please contact our immigration team, who are on hand to help.

To contact our sports law team to discuss any other matters, please email Emma Brooksbank. 


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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