State Of The Game: UK Work Permits

As the latest round of International fixtures begins to wrap up and many countries wrap up qualification for the World Cup in Brazil it could be important to see if there are any players new to the international scene for your favorite national team.  The reason being that if they’re looking to make a move to a Premier League club, or a Premier League club is considering them, their activity for their national team could be incredibly important.

So much has been made of the Premier League and the large influx of foreign players to the league.  The BBC actually did an analysis of the Premier League and broke down by nationality the percentage of overall playing time being given.  An interesting aspect of the top 10 countries representing in playing time is that the top 8 include England and all European nations.  The significance is that with free movement of labor regulations within the EU, any EU national is free to move and seek employment anywhere else in the EU without a work permit.

With that fact in mind,at least 64% of the minutes played in the Premier League in the 2013/14 season, according to the BBC, are being played by players who don’t need a work permit.  While that is quite a significant number, there are still 30 countries being represented in the Premier League outside of the EU which means that at some point, these players needed to apply and be given a work permit in the UK in order to play for their club.

A simple way to discuss the process of obtaining a work Permit is to break it down into two steps: The application, and the appeal.

The application process itself is not incredibly complicated.  When a club signs a player who needs a work permit they are agreeing to sponsor the player meaning they are agreeing to pay his wages.  This sponsorship is submitted to the FA for consideration.  The club then applies on behalf of the player to the UK Home Office with an endorsement from the FA at which point the player is subject to a degree of scrutiny as to his eligibility which is based on two major criteria.  These criteria are used to determine whether the player is of the “highest calibre” so as to make a significant contribution to the development of the game.

The first of that criteria is to see whether over the past two years, the player has been involved in at least 75% of his country’s competitive ‘A’ team fixtures.  Competitive ‘A’ team fixtures count as  World Cup Finals and qualifying matches and each regional confederation’s tournaments as well as their qualifying matches.  This includes regional tournaments like the CONCACAF Gold Cup, UEFA Euros, The African Nations Cup, the CONMEBOL Copa America, Asian Nations Cup etc, as well as the FIFA Confederations Cup.

A caveat of this 75% rule is that it applies to the matches where the player was available for selection.  If the player was injured then this is taken into account and all that is necessary is for the player to be in the squad for him to be considered as participating.

The second criterion is that the player’s country of origin must average a 70th or higher ranking in FIFA’s official World Rankings over the previous two years.  This allows clubs to actually monitor certain countries that they believe will be moving into the 70th+ eligibility range and scout potential signings there and give them time to collect the necessary information.

If these two criteria are met, then the work permit is issued for the length of the contract signed between the player and the club.  If the permit is not issued though, hope is not lost.  Clubs may request that a panel asses a player’s skill and expertise.  At this point the panel typically sits three to five days post panel request and usually consists of independent experts and the relevant sporting governing bodies to determine themselves whether the player is of the “highest calibre.”

A recent high-profile case of this occurrence  is Chelsea FC’s Brazilian signing Willian.  While Brazil is most certainly above the 70th World Ranking position, Willian has not participated in the required 75% percent of competitive fixtures.  The appeal by Chelsea then was to say that the competitiveness of the Brazilian national team is at such a high level that Willian in fact would have made the 75% mark for a large portion of other national teams.  Ultimately this argument was accepted and he was issued a work permit.

A failure of this appeals process though is final.  No appeals for the player can be made during the same season. This leads to the dilemma of what clubs do when they have technically signed a player but that player is denied a work permit.  The solution many times is to loan the player to another club outside that country with less stringent immigration laws and try again next season.

Another interesting note is that clubs also investigate whether a player has family that currently hold EU citizenship that could help them qualify for EU Citizenship at which point they would have free movement.  Brazil and Argentina were in places nine and ten on that BBC report for percentage of playing time and players from those two countries have often utilized this method.  Brazilians many times have family in Portugal and there is quite a large population of Argentinian players in Italy due to a large general Argentinian population in the country.

All in all, work permits can be as big a hurdle sometimes as negotiating fees and contracts.  Even after obtaining a work permit for a player for the time period of the contract, they still must apply for a new permit should they want to renew the contract or extend it.  Clubs certainly recognize this but the whole process becomes one of the lesser discussed topics surrounding player signings and can prove to be the single monkey wrench in signing a desired player.

Reporting on the business side of the world's game.