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International Sportsperson visa route announced

24 September 2021

The latest Statement of Changes in Immigration Rules includes a new International Sportsperson visa route for professional athletes coming to work in the UK. The route will launch from 9 am on 11 October 2021.

The Statement of Changes describes the new route as follows:

The International Sportsperson route is for an elite sportsperson or qualified sports coach who is internationally established and can make a significant contribution to the development of their sport at its highest level in the UK.

The route will replace the T5 (Creative & Sporting) and Tier 2 (Sportsperson) visa routes, merging the two into one category. Practically speaking, the route is largely a rebrand of the current system, with a short-term option mirroring the T5 route and a long-term option mirroring the Tier 2 route.

Despite media reports to the contrary, International Sportsperson is not a fast-track route, nor is it a Global Talent visa. The validity, suitability and eligibility requirements for the route will be set out in the Immigration Rules in a new Appendix International Sportsperson.

Obtaining immigration permission under the route is still a two-stage process:

  • Obtain a Governing Body Endorsement from the Governing Body for the relevant sport; and

  • Apply for entry clearance or permission to stay under the International Sportsperson visa route.

Each sport has its own Governing Body Endorsement (GBE) criteria agreed with the Home Office. The GBE ensures the person to be sponsored is adequately assessed as being an elite sportsperson or qualified coach.

Once the GBE is issued, the sponsoring club can assign a Certificate of Sponsorship enabling the player or coach to complete an entry clearance or permission to stay application. Biometrics must be enrolled at a visa application centre unless the person is an EEA or Swiss national, in which case they can use the UK Immigration ID Check app to verify their identity.

As is the case under the current T5 process, a person applying as an International Sportsperson for an initial period of 12 months or less will not need to meet an English Language requirement. This is crucial to allow international players and coaches to complete transfers quickly. To obtain a visa of more than 12 months, the player or coach will need to meet an English language requirement, which is Level A1 on the Common European Framework of Reference for languages (basic proficiency).

In one of the few changes to the rules, the continuous residence requirement for settlement as an International Sportsperson can include time spent in the short-term route, unlike the current rules where time spent in T5 does not count toward settlement in the UK.

Under the new route there is no longer an option for a non-visa national to request entry at the border for a period of three months or less; entry clearance is required in all cases. However, it will be possible for those who enter the UK as a visitor (including as a permitted paid engagement visitor) for the purpose of undertaking certain sports-related activities to switch to the route after arrival.

Sponsor guidance for the route will be published in line with the new Rules and should be available from 11 October 2021. Significant substantive changes to the criteria for sponsors are not anticipated.

The Home Office has contacted Tier 2 Sportsperson and T5 Creative and Sporting sponsors to advise the following regarding the transition to the International Sportsperson and Temporary Work – Creative Worker route:

  • Access to the Sponsor Management System (SMS) for the above sponsors will be unavailable from approximately 19:00 on Friday 8 October 2021 to approximately 09:00 on Monday 11 October 2021.

  • When the SMS is made unavailable, all incomplete applications to add routes to an existing licence will be deleted.

  • Any Certificates of Sponsorship (CoS) in the above routes that are ‘ready to go’ will be changed to ‘work in progress’ and cannot be assigned. ‘Assigned’ or ‘Used’ CoS are unaffected.

  • Any licences due to expire between 8 and 11 October 2021 should be renewed before the SMS is made unavailable on 8 October 2021, however if this is not possible, the licence will be extended for four calendar days.

  • The initial CoS allocation under an International Sportsperson sponsor licence will be set at the number of unassigned CoS available on 10 October 2021 under T2 Sportsperson plus T5 Creative and Sporting (where the sponsor is registered as a sports body)

  • Where a sponsor has a T5 Creative and Sporting sponsor licence within a creative category, it will become a Creative Worker licence on 11 October 2021, with the initial CoS allocation being set at the number of unassigned CoS available under the T5 licence on 10 October 2021.

If you have any queries or would like further information about these changes, please contact Andrew Osborne, Supinder Singh Sian, Stephen O'Flaherty or Sophie Hunter.

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