The International Sportsperson Visa allows elite sportspeople and coaches to come to Britain to make a difference to their sport in the UK. We can help with your visa application.
The UK’s international sportsperson visa is for elite, recognised sportsperson or coach to work in the UK to develop their sport here at the highest level.
The visa provides a simplified immigration route for elite sports coaches and internationally established sportspeople, replacing and merging the Tier 2 Sportsperson Visa and the sporting component of the Tier 5 Creative and Sporting Visa.
A sportsperson wanting to apply for an international sportsperson visa must be 16 years or over, and will need to follow a two-stage process.
First, they must obtain a Governing Body Endorsement (GBE) from the Governing Body for their relevant sport. They must then apply for entry clearance or permission to stay in the UK under the international sportsperson visa route.
Each sport will have its own GBE criteria, which will have been agreed with the Home Office.
Sports Governing Bodies for each individual sport are responsible for issuing endorsements and will certify that the athlete in question is classed as “elite” for their relevant sport.
After the GBE has been issued, the sportsperson must be provided with a valid Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) by their sponsoring club.
Once they are in possession of the CoS, they should make an online visa application within three months.
The visa application must meet the following requirements:
Other qualifying criteria include:
Prior to October 2021, it was possible to obtain permission to enter the UK without a visa, provided applicants could show their GBE and CoS. This has now changed and international sportspersons based outside the UK must go through the visa application process from overseas before travelling to the UK, except in limited cases for professional football clubs following the exemption for visas for football players introduced by the Home Office in June 2023.
Under the UK Home Office’s Governing Body Endorsement (GBE) Criteria for International Sportsperson visas, the FA is authorised to issue an endorsement to a youth player if the football club can evidence that the player shows significant potential and is of sufficient quality to enhance the development of the game in England. This is an expansion on the previous rules which only allowed English clubs to apply for visas for established overseas players, with exemptions only available in exceptional circumstances.
Football clubs in England are now permitted to sign a certain number of players who fall short of the 15 points required for a GBE from the FA.
Premier League and Championship teams can bring in up to four international players under the exemption, while League One and League Two teams can bring in two players.
The number of players a club can bring in under the exemption will vary, depending on the percentage of minutes they have given to players who are eligible to play for England. This means for the 2023/24 season, the number of exemptions could be reduced to two for some clubs. For future seasons, the allocation per club is set to be determined solely on the basis of use of English-qualified players, from no exemptions up to four.
Any organisation wishing to employ an international sportsperson or coach must first hold a valid Worker sponsor licence. This can be obtained by applying online and paying the relevant application fee. However, before applying for a licence, the prospective sponsor must make sure their organisation has an endorsement from their sport’s Governing Body approved by the Home Office.
Endorsement confirms that the sponsor is a genuine club or other eligible organisation, and that they have a legitimate need to bring overseas nationals into the UK as sportspeople. Once the licence is approved, the sponsor can begin to assign CoS.
The international sportsperson visa application fee depends on how long the applicant intends to stay:
The applicant will also need to pay the Immigration Healthcare Surcharge for each year of leave.
Additionally, if the applicant has not lived in the UK for 12 months or longer on the date of their application, they must also satisfy certain financial criteria. This necessitates the applicant to show they have funds of at least £1,270 or alternatively their sponsor must confirm on the CoS that they will, if required, accommodate and maintain the applicant up to the end of the first month of their employment for a sum equal to £1,270 at least.
The cost of a sponsor licence depends on several factors, such as the size of the company, business or enterprise and the number of its employees. The smaller fee is in the sum of £536, and the larger fee amounts to £1,476.
Anyone applying for a sports visa UK must choose entry clearance or permission to stay for either 12 months or fewer, or between 12 months and 3 years.
Any applicant asking for permission for a period exceeding 12 months must also meet the English Language requirement. This is Level A1 on the Common European Framework of Reference for languages and amounts to basic proficiency. This is particularly relevant for clubs who need to complete transfers swiftly.
If the applicant is a national of Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Canada, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, New Zealand, Malta, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago, and the USA, they will not need to prove their knowledge of English to the required standards.
As well as working for their sponsor, the applicant can study provided it does not interfere with the job they are sponsored to do, travel abroad and return to the UK, carry out supplementary employment and voluntary work. They may also work for their national team while their national team is in the UK, compete in British University and College Sport competitions, and perform temporary roles such as a sports broadcaster.
Things a sportsperson visa holder cannot do:
The dependants of a sportsperson (partner and/or children) can apply to join them providing they meet the eligibility requirements. For those who are successful, their visa ends on the same date as the applicant.
A dependant partner or child, is any of the following:
Evidence of the applicant’s relationship will need to be given when making the visa application, by proving either:
Child dependants over the age of 16 must:
Evidence of the child’s address must also be provided, such as credit card or bank statements, driving licence, NHS registration document, or an official letter from their college or university.
The applicant’s partner or children must have a certain amount of money available to them in order to support themselves whilst they are in the UK. They will need:
Previously, a sportsperson coming into the UK on a T2 visa could stay in the UK for up to six years, although T5 visas were limited to 12 months. The recent change removes those pressures, and that of having to leave the UK for failing to settle within six years.
For those international sportspeople who wish to settle and apply for ILR, they must, amongst other criteria, be paid at least £35,800 per year. It is probable that many will easily achieve this figure, however, those in lower leagues, for example, or newly emerging professional sports, are not likely to be earning such sums.
Although the salary threshold may be problematic for some and mean they may never be able to settle in the UK, since there is no limit on time spent in this category, they can continue to extend their stay.
Other settlement requirements include:
Settlement can now include time spent on the international sportsperson’s visa short-term route (those who entered on T2 or T5 visas before October 2021). Under the previous system, this was not allowed.
An application to extend an international sportsperson visa should be made before the expiry of the current visa. A dependant partner or children must apply separately, although this can be done at the same time as the main applicant.
The sportsperson must have had their endorsement renewed by their sport’s Governing Body and have received a new CoS reference number to be eligible to apply to extend their visa.
Visas can be extended for up to three years at a time, and depending on the type of visa, a fee applies. The applicant may also be required to pay £19.20 to have their fingerprints and photo (biometrics) taken.
Decisions tend to come through around the 8-week mark using the standard service, although it can be speeded up by paying to get a quicker decision (applicants are told they can do this when they apply). Following receipt of the decision letter, the biometric residence permit takes around ten days to arrive.
The applicant will be contacted if any supporting documentation needs to be verified, or if they are required to attend an interview or they have a criminal conviction (or have received one whilst in the UK).
Previous sponsored sporting licences have been automatically converted to the new system, and all CoS are collated under the single international sportsperson visa heading.
This aids sponsors in managing their CoS information and allocation because the new system has created a single expiry date before which a CoS allocation must be renewed or used, whereas the previous T2 and T5 certificates tended to expire at different points in the year.
Those sportspeople and their dependants currently working in the UK on a T2 or T5 visa route will not be affected by the change. They can easily transition onto the new route as and when they apply to extend their permission to stay in the UK.
A sportsperson visa is for elite sportspeople and sports coaches who are internationally established and whose employment will help towards making a significant contribution to the development of their sport in the UK.
If you are an elite sportsperson or qualified coach and are recognised by your sport’s Governing Body as being at the highest level of your profession internationally, and your application is endorsed by them, then you are eligible to apply for an international sportsperson visa.