By Dan Chapman
New work permit rules came into force on 1st May 2015 but with the transfer window in full swing, clubs are only starting to discover the impact.
Sheffield Wednesday have hit difficulties in trying to sign former Leeds United player Rudy Austin whilst Blackburn rovers are believed to have realised the problems they may face in signing a South Korean player.
So what are the new rules and what has changed?
The previous system meant non-EU players had to play 75 per cent of their country’s competitive matches over the last two years – if the country was in the top 70 of the FIFA rankings. Any player who fell outside of that criteria would need to mount an appeal in order to obtain a work permit, although a large number of appeals were successful where the employing club could demonstrate that the player in question had exceptional talent.
Under the new system, players from top countries (ranked between 1 and 10) only need to have played 30 per cent of international matches, so on the face of it there will now be greater opportunity to sign – for example – Brazilian players.
However, there is a sliding scale to make things more difficult for players from lower-ranked countries – they will need to have played a higher percentage of international games. For a country ranked between 31 and 50 in the FIFA rankings, 75% is the required percentage. Further, automatically qualifying for a work permit will not be possible at all for countries outside of the top 50.
Arguably the most significant development, though, is that the appeals system – where a player does not fulfill the criteria for automatic granting of a work permit – has been completely redesigned. The previous system was heavily criticised for the rather vague and arbitrary approach taken, whereby a club merely had to persuade the panel that the player had exceptional talent and could contribute to the development of the English game. This resulted in a number of appeals whereby managers, national team managers and renowned football ‘experts’ were called to give evidence to the panel urging the granting of a work permit. Under the new system, an “Exceptions Panel” will be convened under the jurisdiction of very strict criteria and a points system, and whilst there still remains an ultimate discretion to award a work permit it would seem that only a brave club is going to spend a considerable amount of time and money seeking to sign a player who does not fall within either the automatic criteria or satisfy the points system of the Exceptions Panel.
It may be that a few clubs will be caught out by the new rules and their summer transfer activities have included attempts to sign players that are not going to receive a work permit ; one can understand that there may be a presumption that a player such as Rudy Austin – who has started over 100 games in the Championship – would be available to sign! Clubs and their recruitment departments and players’ advisers will quickly need to get up to speed.
This note provides very general advice only; for any specific advice on the immigration status of a footballer please contact Dan Chapman.
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The spearhead and Senior Partner of Full Contact, Dan is an experienced solicitor and advocate, with a specialist background in employment law and sports.
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