Brexit and the Premier League – Unintended Immigration Consequences of Brexit?


3 mins

Posted on 31 Mar 2016

The BBC today released an interesting article on its website highlighting the potential effects of Brexit on football in the UK.

The article pointed out that there are currently 332 EU national players within the top two divisions in England and Scotland that do not meet the current criteria that determine whether players from countries outside the European Economic Area are able to obtain a visa.

The articles raises issues that impact not only upon football but on all commercial industries in the UK :

  1. What will happen to the existing EU national workers already working in the United Kingdom ? and 
  2. What will happen in the future should Brexit occur – will it become much more difficult to hire EU workers ?

The answers to these questions remains uncertain as very little is currently being declared about what a post-Brexit UK would look like. I could talk at length about possible scenarios, but in the interests of brevity my view is that any Brexit would be very likely to bring with it significant transitional provisions that enable those workers currently ‘exercising their Treaty rights’ by working in the UK to remain here for as long as they continue to work.

Whilst it is of course possible that the government might decide otherwise, perhaps that is unlikely at a point in time when the UK would be seeking to negotiate the landscape of a new trading agreement with the EU. Indeed the EU would no doubt seek to insist upon the free movement of workers as a fundamental term of that new trading agreement and it may be that a watered down version of free movement for EU citizens would be eventually implemented. Perhaps then an EU national would still have some diluted form of ‘right to work’ in the UK based on their European nationality even in a post-Brexit scenario. This is something which might come as a shock to those voting to leave (!) and is not an issue that in my view has been well publicised in the campaign to date.

The alternative would be that no deal on free movement and the right to work is agreed to by the UK. That remains unlikely in my opinion. However, it is true to say that a post-Brexit government might consider it held a mandate to prevent free movement. Whether it would be prepared to prevent free movement at any cost remains to be seen. If no free movement deal is reached in a post-Brexit scenario then EU workers would be competing on an equal basis with workers worldwide. The competition for the limited number of Tier 2 General certificates of sponsorship would greatly intensify and there would be pressure brought from business to increase the immigration cap and relax the criteria in many immigration areas.

Like most voters and businesses I await the decision of the British people on 23 June with keen interest. From an immigration law perspective we continue to live in exciting and challenging times.

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