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The transfer window: what does this mean for immigration?

As you may be aware, the transfer window opened on 2 January 2022. This is the second year in which UK football clubs have had to adhere to the new immigration rules following Brexit. Following the UK’s departure from the EU, the free movement of EEA nationals between the UK and the EU ended making the transfer of EEA nationals to the UK that bit harder. As 31 December 2020, football clubs are required to apply for a visa for EEA nationals to enable them to come to the UK and play football.

How does the UK immigration system work for footballers?

  • The club purchasing the player (or receiving them on loan) is required to hold a sports specific sponsor licence.
  • Before a player is able to apply for a visa, the club must obtain an endorsement from The FA.
  • The club must assign a certificate of sponsorship to the player using the International Sportsperson visa. This visa allows the player to be sponsored for up to three years, with the possibility for extension and eligibility for settlement after five years in the UK).
  • Football clubs that lie outside the top four divisions of men’s football or the top two divisions of women’s football cannot obtain a sports sponsor licence. These clubs will no longer be able to recruit EEA nationals unless the player obtains a visa outside of the sponsored worker system and that visa permits them to play football.
  • A full list of the football teams which hold a specific sponsor license can be found here.


How does The FA endorsement work?

  • Players who have made a certain percentage of international appearances for the best-ranking national teams over a certain period of time will receive an automatic endorsement.
  • However, there is a secondary points-based scheme whereby a play is not awarded an ‘automatic’ endorsement. Under this scheme, the endorsement will be dependent on the following criteria: the quality of the league of the selling club; minutes played by the player; and the domestic league and continental cup progression of the club they played for at the end of last season.
  • Youth players (under the age of 21) have the opportunity to be assessed on youth-team specific criteria if they fail to meet their respective points pass marks.
  • The full criteria for an FA endorsement can be found here.


An example using Philippe Coutinho
As can be seen on the Register of Worker and Temporary Worker licensed sponsors, Aston Villa Football Club hold a sponsor licence in both the “International Sportsperson” and the “Skilled Worker” categories.

Aston Villa will then have applied and received an endorsement from the FA (see below how on Philippe Coutinho met the criteria for the endorsement).

As Philippe Coutinho is a Brazilian national, he is entitled to an automatic endorsement and he has played in more than 30% of Brazil’s international fixtures that he has been available for selection for in the 48 months prior to the date of the transfer due to Brazil being the number 2 ranked team in the world. Over the last 48 months Philippe Coutinho has had a number of serious injuries and therefore has only been available for selection in a possible 15 fixtures for Brazil in the last 48 months. In these possible fixtures, Philippe Coutinho has played in 10 fixtures and therefore he has played in more than 30% of Brazil’s international fixtures that he has been available for selection for in the 48 months prior to the date if transfer.