Football’s Future: The Beautiful Game & The UK Government’s Plans To Reduce Net Migration

As we come to the end of the season, English football clubs will be closely reviewing areas for improvement across the board. In this article, immigration specialists from Fragomen LLP, explore recent UK immigration law changes and how these may impact recruitment strategies in football.



By Alex Hood (Manager +44 20 7090 9161), Sutha Sivagnanam (Associate +44 20 7090 9332), Stephanie Fitton (Trainee Solicitor +44 20 7090 9129) and Henry Thourgood-Marshall (Apprentice Paralegal +44 114 289 2230)


English football clubs continue to face a number of challenges since Brexit altered the immigration landscape for recruiting international players, coaches and non-playing staff.



In addition to the requirement that foreign players must receive an endorsement from the Football Association (The FA) before they can obtain a visa to play in the UK and the Premier League’s Profit and Sustainability Rules (PSR), the UK government recently announced a five-point plan to reduce net migration.


These obstacles are likely forcing clubs to re-evaluate their immigration strategies, both for international players and support staff.


Do changes to UK immigration rules pose challenges for English clubs with overseas recruitment?

In April 2024, the UK government announced various measures designed to reduce net migration – including higher government application fees and substantial increases to the minimum salary thresholds for the “skilled worker” visa route – the most commonly used work visa route.


Fortunately, for English football clubs and fans, the International Sportsperson visa is one of the few visa routes which was not impacted by the government’s changes.


Overseas professional footballers, managers and coaching staff may work in the UK provided they obtain endorsement from The FA, which sets its own endorsement criteria ahead of each season.


However, English football clubs are not completely immune from the recent immigration changes. Football clubs cannot run without critical non-playing staff – including data analysts, media and other technical roles. Whilst clubs will hire local staff to fill various roles, many will also hire individuals from overseas with specialist skills to fill certain key roles. It is these roles which may be impacted by the salary threshold increases which came into force in April.


The new skilled worker visa rules now require individuals to be paid at least £38,700 per year (almost 50% increase from the previous threshold of £26,200), or the ‘going rate’ for the specific occupation (whichever is higher), based on a 37.5-hour week.


Taking data analysts as an example, the ‘going rate’ salary has been increased to £33,200 per year; however, clubs will be required to pay the higher £38,700 minimum to hire overseas staff into these roles, unless the individual qualifies for a discount prescribed by the rules. The same principle will apply to certain media roles and groundskeepers, where the going rate has increased to £30,960.


Similarly, there are significant impacts to technology-related roles in football. The ‘going rates’ for IT and software related roles have increased, most of which are higher than the £38,700 base. Clubs hiring staff for roles such as programmers and software professionals will be required to pay a minimum of £49,400 (45% increase) and for those managing IT systems within the club, a minimum of £51,900 (33% increase).


The salary threshold increases may have a disproportionate impact on roles for clubs outside of London, where the average annual salary for many of these roles is lower.


Look to the bench? Alternative visa options to navigate salary thresholds

To combat the obstacles that arise as a result of the salary threshold increases, clubs may look at alternative visa categories to secure the best talent from overseas.


Non-sponsored visa routes such as the Graduate, High Potential Individual and Youth Mobility visas allow individuals to stay and work in the UK without any minimum salary requirements. However, these routes are usually short-term solutions as typically these visas cannot be extended nor enable the individual to accrue time towards eligibility for permanent residence in the UK.


The Government Authorised Exchange (GAE) visa may be an attractive option for clubs to consider. It allows individuals to come to the UK for a temporary period on an approved internship scheme and can be used to sponsor individuals to undertake an internship or work experience within a UK company.


Under the GAE route, the sponsor is an overarching third-party organisation which manages the scheme and facilitates the internships and not the club. Fragomen LLP is an approved GAE sponsor and is the only law firm in the UK to hold such a licence and can sponsor supernumerary internships which last up to 12 months. Shortly before the end of their internship, the worker may be eligible to switch into the Skilled Worker route should the club offer a full-time position.


The GAE route is an invaluable and cost-effective option for clubs looking to hire overseas talent and expand their talent pipeline. It allows the individual to gain relevant work experience to pursue their career aspirations whilst allowing clubs to assess their performance within the workplace environment, prior to committing to a permanent job offer and associated sponsorship.


The potential impact of the Premier League’s Profitability and Sustainability and new immigration rules on summer transfer window

Despite the lack of changes to the International Sportsperson visa route, it is impossible to look ahead to the summer transfer window, without considering the possible link between PSR and clubs’ immigration strategies.


Although clubs recently voted in favour of reforming the PSR by adopting spending caps similar to European counterparts, English clubs’ financial health continues to be heavily scrutinised.


What impact might this have on their transfer approach?

Fewer transfers?

Taking the January 2024 transfer window as an example, it has been reported that spending by English Premier League clubs was at the lowest level since 2012 (except during the pandemic in January 2021). Whilst movement in January generally is less frequent when compared to the summer window, the decline suggests clubs are taking a more cautious approach with overseas player recruitment.


Conflict with The FA’s endorsement process for visas?

PSR concerns may potentially conflict with the most recent update to The FA’s endorsement process for international players. The Elite Significant Contribution (ESC) player rules – introduced in 2023 – were a relaxation of the visa rules and provide an opportunity for clubs to sign talented overseas players who do not meet the criteria for automatic endorsement.


The more minutes a club’s homegrown players spend on the pitch each season, the higher ESC quota the club receives. However, with pressure on clubs to balance the books, PSR may drive them to sell more homegrown players to bank as pure profit under the PSR.


Whilst ESC is seen as a positive step for English clubs to remain competitive in the international transfer market, the impact of PSR could potentially affect certain clubs’ ESC quotas and mean they are not fully able to take advantage of the more relaxed visa endorsement rules.


Focus on domestic recruitment?

Although the UK immigration system is a lot less complicated than other countries, it is one of the most expensive. With government application fees continuing to rise, combined with the salary increases, it’s likely clubs may focus more heavily on domestic recruitment strategies, particularly for non-playing staff, in light of the changes.


After the final whistle

Following the recent immigration changes, it is more important than ever that English clubs are aware of the immigration options as they plan their recruitment strategy for the upcoming season, especially, given that the outcome of the next UK general election may potentially bring further changes to the immigration rules. As clubs plan for the future, Fragomen’s dedicated sports immigration team is available to provide guidance on all UK immigration matters.


Image: Timothy Tan-Unsplash





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