Sports immigration: EEA and Swiss footballers – what do I need to do about right to work documents?

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  • Nationals of either a European Economic Area (EEA) member state or Switzerland, who were already residing in the UK by 31 December 2020 and continue to do so, can:
    • obtain a limited right to remain in the UK for five years by applying for pre-settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS); or
    • if the player has continuously resided in the UK (for at least six months in any 12-month period) for a period of five years by the date of their application, they can apply for settled status under the EUSS.
  • EUSS applications must be submitted by 30 June 2021. However, clubs should not compel EEA/Swiss players who have commenced employment with them prior to 30 June 2021 to provide their EUSS status, nor should they indicate that their continued employment is contingent upon them making an application. Instead, clubs may choose to direct their players to the government’s information about the EUSS.
  • From 1 July 2021, if an EEA/Swiss player has not applied for pre-settled or settled status under the EUSS (and they do not otherwise have valid leave to remain in the UK), they will not have the right to work in the UK. Despite this, clubs will not be required to retrospectively check the right to work status of players who were already employed by the club on or before 30 June 2021.
  • However, if a club gains knowledge that the player is not legally in the UK, they will lose their “statutory excuse” against liability for employing an illegal worker in respect of that player. This would expose the club to the risk of fines of up to £20,000 per illegal worker and their sponsor licence being demoted or removed, which is of great importance to clubs looking to buy from overseas post-Brexit.
  • Further, if any person at the club with responsibility for an aspect of the player’s employment – which will likely be construed broadly to cover people like the head of recruitment, the manager, payroll staff etc. – knows or has reasonable cause to believe the club is employing an illegal worker, the person with responsibility, the club and any consenting or conniving officer at the club could face criminal liability; up to five years in prison and/or an unlimited fine.
  • For EEA/Swiss nationals whose employment commences from 1 July 2021, new right to work check rules will apply. The player will need to demonstrate they have a right to work in the UK through evidence of their immigration status using the online checking service. EEA/Swiss players who do not have settled or pre-settled status will need to be sponsored under the points-based immigration system – more information on that here.
  • New guidance on how to conduct right to work checks in respect of EEA/Swiss nationals from 1 July 2021 is expected to be published shortly.
  • We discuss the EUSS and what it means for businesses generally in more detail here.