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International Sportsperson Visa – Guide for Employers

If you are an employer in the field of elite sports, you will want to attract the best sportspeople to your organisation or club. That may involve the international recruitment of overseas sports stars, nurturing young talent from overseas or the employment of an experienced coach with a proven track record.

In this article, our business immigration solicitors will guide employers on sponsoring sports people on the international sportsperson visa.

Employing an international sportsperson or coach to work in the UK

The international sportsperson visa enables UK employers to recruit elite sportspeople and coaches from overseas. The visa recognises that some sports roles are short-term in nature so there are slightly different eligibility criteria for a sports visa of 12 months or less and over 12 months.  

For UK business owners and clubs, the key point about the international sportsperson visa is that it is a sponsored visa under the UK points-based immigration system. That means employers need to hold a Home Office-issued sponsor licence to sponsor their chosen elite sportsperson or coach.

Business immigration solicitors can help you apply for your first sponsor licence or assist you in extending your sponsor licence from skilled worker visa sponsorship to include international sportsperson visa sponsorship.

When attracting elite sports talent to the UK, players and athletes will normally want the flexibility to be able to play for their national teams as well as compete and play for their sponsoring employer. The immigration rules state that in addition to undertaking sponsored employment an international sportsperson can also:

  • Play for their national team
  • Play in British University and College Sport (BUCS) competitions
  • Carry out temporary commentary work in sports broadcasting

How employers can sponsor employees on the international sportsperson visa

A UK business needs 2 bits of paperwork to employ an international sportsperson or coach on the international sportsperson visa:

  1. A sponsor licence from the Home Office to sponsor international sportsperson visa applicants
  2. Endorsement from the relevant Home Office-approved sports governing body  

For your club or sports business to qualify for a sponsor licence to sponsor sportsperson visa applicants you must be a UK-based sporting body, club, or organisation in the sports sector. Your business won't qualify for a sponsor licence to sponsor sportspersons if you are:

  • A sports agency or
  • An overseas-based company or club

With the support of a business immigration lawyer, applying for a sponsor licence to sponsor sportspersons is straightforward provided you have spent time getting your business ready to meet sponsor licence reporting and recording duties and you have the right paperwork to support your application. There are no restrictions on the size of your business so the club or organisation doesn’t have to have a minimum level of turnover or number of employees to qualify for a sponsor licence.

Once your business has secured endorsement and got its sponsor licence it can recruit international sportspersons by allocating each overseas recruit with a certificate of sponsorship or reference number. The visa applicant needs this certificate to apply for their visa. Sponsorship licence solicitors can guide businesses through the sponsor licence management and recruitment process as well as assist individual sportspersons and coaches with their visa applications and their families with dependant visa applications. This guidance can save time and money as, for example, the certificate of sponsorship has to be used by the visa applicant within 3 months of the business issuing it for it to be valid.  

What are the international sportsperson visa eligibility requirements for sportspersons?

The eligibility criteria for the international sportsperson visa depend on whether the visa application is for less than 12 months or over 12 months. The eligibility criteria are:

Eligibility criteria for the international sportsperson visaVisa of less than 12 monthsVisa of 12 months or more
1Aged at least 16YesYes
2Job as a sportsperson or coach by a UK business with a sponsor licence with the employer allocating the visa applicant a certificate of sponsorshipYesYes
3Endorsement by the governing body relevant to the sports sector. The governing body has to confirm the sportsperson is internationally established at the highest level and that they will make a significant contribution to the development of their sport at the highest level in the UK. Endorsement is necessary before a business can allocate the sportsperson with a certificate of sponsorshipYesYes
4Meet the English language requirement through either sitting the English language test and achieving a pass at level A1 on the Common European Framework of Reference for language in speaking and listening or through exemption from sitting the English language test because the applicant is from a majority English speaking country on a Home Office list or through their qualifications. Details of the countries and qualifications can be found in the Immigration Rules Appendix English Language  NoYes
5Meet the financial requirement -  the sportsperson needs to have had at least £1,270 in their bank account, held for at least 28 days, ending not more than 31 days before their visa application. The sportsperson doesn’t need to meet the financial requirement if they have been in the UK on a visa for at least 12 months or if on the certificate of sponsorship, the sponsoring employer agrees to cover the applicant’s costs during their first month in the UKYesYes
6Meet the general eligibility criteria for UK entry clearance so the applicant won't be refused UK entry because they don’t meet the general eligibility criteriaYesYes
7TB certificate if the sportsperson comes from a country on a Home Office list of counties where visa applicants have to produce a TB certificate. The list of countries where a TB test for a UK visa application is necessary can be found here.YesYes

Whether the sportsperson applies for a visa of less than or more than 12 months duration their family members can accompany them to the UK if they meet the eligibility criteria for a dependant visa.

How long is the international sportsperson visa valid?

The validity of an international sportsperson visa depends on the length of the visa:

  • Visa for 12 months - the employee can stay in the UK for 12 months or for the employment period on their certificate of sponsorship plus an extra 14 days, whichever is the shorter period
  • Visa for over 12 months – the employee can stay in the UK for the period of employment referred to in their certificate of sponsorship plus an extra 14 days or 3 years, whichever is the shorter period

International sportspeople can apply to extend their visa or they can apply to switch visas. To extend their visa they will need their club or employer to continue to sponsor their employment.

 International sportspersons who are in the UK for at least 5 years can apply to settle in the UK. Time spent on the international sportsperson visa can be combined with time in the UK on visas such as the skilled worker visa or global talent visa to qualify for indefinite leave to remain (ILR).

The eligibility criteria for ILR for an international sportsperson are:

  • They meet the 5-year residence requirement – time spent in the UK during the 5 years must be both continuous and lawful. The immigration rules state an ILR applicant must not have been outside the UK for more than 180 days in any 12 months during the 5-year residence period
  • They are in sponsored employment on a salary of at least £35,800 gross per year and they will continue to be employed for the foreseeable future
  • They meet the English language requirement for an ILR application or they are exempt from taking the English language test
  • They have passed the Life in the UK test

Once an international sportsperson has obtained ILR they are no longer subject to UK immigration control so they don’t require sponsorship, saving the business the administrative costs of complying with reporting and recording duties.

How much does it cost to sponsor a sportsperson?

The cost to sponsor a sportsperson can be broken down into 2 components:

  • Sponsor licence application fees and
  • International sportsperson visa costs – some of these costs are the responsibility of the visa applicant but many clubs and sponsoring employers choose to pay all fees to help facilitate the transfer of an elite player or to get a coach in position for the start of the season

Sponsor licence fees depend on the nature and size of the organisation applying for a sponsor licence but businesses also need to budget for licence renewal fees as sponsor licences are granted for 4 years. In addition, there are administrative costs of operating a sponsor licence, such as sponsorship licence solicitors providing sponsor licence management services or the employment of key personnel to manage the licence and the payment of expenses, such as the fee for a certificate of sponsorship.

The cost of the international sportsperson visa fees depends on the length of the visa. A visa for up to 12 months costs £244 and a visa of over 12 months duration costs £610 if made from outside the UK, or £704  if the application is made from inside the UK. In addition, the visa applicant will need to pay the immigration health surcharge, currently £624 per year. Payment has to be made upfront for the duration of the visa. Many businesses pick up the costs of the visa application fee and the immigration health surcharge and commit to meet the financial requirement for the applicant so the visa candidate doesn’t have to prove they’ve held funds of at least £1,270 over the required period.

Help for UK employers sponsoring sportspersons

At Harper James, our business immigration solicitors work with our employment law team to provide a comprehensive service for UK business owners recruiting international sportspersons, including:

  • Sponsor licence applications and pre-application advice
  • Business immigration strategy and audits
  • Sponsor licence management services and compliance advice   
  • Guidance on the allocation of certificates of sponsorship
  • International sportsperson visa applications and dependant visa applications
  • Employment contracts, grievances, disciplinary procedures and early terminations  

About our expert

Fozia Iqbal

Fozia Iqbal

Senior Business Immigration Solicitor
Fozia has been practising in the field of immigration law for over 20 years, specialising in Business Immigration since 2015. Fozia has advised an array of businesses, from start-ups to multinationals, owner-managed businesses through to SMEs, as well as individuals looking for immigration solutions. With a range of experience across the board, it is unusual for her to come across an immigration issue that she cannot tackle. 

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