Athletes within the Immigration System

Ian Mael, May 30, 2019

International Travel

There are many jobs that allow you to travel and see the world - as is the case for professional sports men and women. Whilst the majority of team-based sports professionals will be situated in one destination, they will be required to travel domestically and occasionally internationally. However, in certain sports like golf, tennis, athletics and Formula One, extensive international travel throughout the year is required.

Rory McIlroy

As an example, Rory McIlroy (a professional golf player) in 2015 spent over 500 hours travelling and spent 287 nights away from home in that year. With the advances of technology, travel is becoming quicker and more convenient... but it is important to remember we live in a complicated world. Every Country will have its own history, political views and specified immigration rules that must be adhered to. 

Sports Visas

For professional athletes travelling to the US (who are not US citizens) a P1 visa is required to be able participate in a tournament. This is for internationally recognised athletes in their field and is valid for up to 5 years. In the UK, a non-EU national would have to apply for a Sports Visitor Visa and while in Australia, a foreign national would require an Australian Sports Visa. This certainly proves athletes who travel constantly for their profession need to be aware of immigration rules, plan ahead and ensure they have the right to enter and participate in the event from an immigration point of view.

Olympic Games

From a wider perspective looking at a large event like the Olympics; in 2016 over 11,000 athletes participated from 207 nations and roughly 500,000 foreign travellers arrived in Brazil to attend the event. A large proportion of the participating athletes were required to obtain a temporary visa, allowing them entry into Brazil and authorisation to participate for a 90 days duration. Bearing in mind the huge numbers of athletes applying at the same time, it was essential this was done well in advance of the event to prevent delays or disappointment.

Sportsperson application

Athletes looking to relocate permanently to a new country must follow very different immigration rules, as do their spouses and family. In the US; EB-1, EB-2 and EB-3 are different applications that can be filed depending on their circumstance. In the UK, a non-EU national sports person is required to apply for a Tier 2 (Sportsperson) permit and fulfil a number of eligibility requirements.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan

On occasions, a sporting event and immigration can cause headline news. In the last 2 weeks, an Armenian footballer (Henrikh Mkhitaryan) made the decision to not to participate in the football Europa League Final due to the final being held in Azerbaijan. Even though there are no diplomatic relations between to the two countries (due to the ongoing conflict), a special allowance was made by the Azerbaijan government to allow him to participate after international criticism. He ultimately decided it wasn’t appropriate, fearing for his personal safety.

Political Influences

In 2012 at the London Olympics, 7 Cameroon athletes who had entered the UK legally for the event went missing and later claimed asylum. The same situation occurred at the Commonwealth Games in 2015 - a dozen African athletes from different countries disappeared before resurfacing seeking advice on gaining asylum in Australia. This certainly highlights that even when the immigration process is followed correctly, outside influences and politics can take over.  

Be aware

It is essential for Athletes, Managers and Team Officials to be aware of changes and amendments to the everchanging immigration and business traveller landscape. Just because you are an internationally recognised athlete, you are not automatically entitled to enter another country without the right visa or work permit!

Written by Ian Mael – Global Account Manager - Immigration & Expatriate Services at Alchemy Recruitment Ltd.

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