UK visa rules process Celtic and Rangers must follow to complete SPFL transfers explained

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The two Glasgow giants and other Scottish teams must tick off several bits of paperwork to satisfy three separate organisations.

Scottish football clubs are faced with an extremely rigorous process when attempting to sign any non-British player at present that involves approval from three separate organisations.

Celtic and Rangers are well-informed regarding the paperwork required for submission to the Scottish Football Association and the UK Home Office before international clearance is granted from FIFA.

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The Hoops have recruited a string of Japanese and South Korean players and Australian winger Marco Tilio, which has led Parkhead officials to explore immigration law further. That was also the case across the city at Ibrox prior to the arrival of attackers like Brazilian forward Danilo and Nigerian international Cyriel Dessers.

Hampden Park stadiumHampden Park stadium
Hampden Park stadium | AFP via Getty Images

Edinburgh duo Hearts and Hibs have also gone through the process this summer and it’s the same for any other team in Scotland.

How does the process of signing a foreign player work?

There are several steps that clubs need to carry out in order to bring a foreign player into the country, secure vital documentation and clearance to let the player in question pull on the club’s colours.

Firstly, teams must apply for a Governing Body Endorsement (GBE) through the Scottish FA, which costs a fee of £100 before a visa or work permit request is sent to the UK Home Office.

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The SFA Governing Body Endorsement Requirements for Men’s Football document online details the entire procedure in full. Sections two, three and four state: “A club can apply for a GBE for a migrant at any time during the Season. In order to apply for a GBE, a club must hold a valid Sponsor’s Licence under Tier 2 and/or Tier 5 of the PBS [Home Office Points Based System]. In order to apply for and obtain a valid Sponsor’s Licence, a club must have obtained an endorsement letter for a Sponsor’s Licence from The Scottish FA.

“If a Club’s Sponsor’s Licence is revoked, any migrant who has obtained a GBE in order to play for/manage/coach the club may have his leave curtailed and may have to make a change in employment application which must be granted before the migrant can undertake any employment duties for the new club.

“If The Scottish FA grants an application for a GBE for a migrant in accordance with these criteria, the club is permitted to assign a Certificate of Sponsorship to the migrant for the period covered by the GBE. The GBE must be presented to the Home Office when the club applies for entry clearance on behalf of a migrant, which must be done within three months of a Certificate of Sponsorship being assigned.

“Any Certificate of Sponsorship and a copy of the migrant’s biometric residence permit must be submitted to The Scottish FA by the club within 3 months of being assigned. Clubs must keep a copy of the relevant page of the migrant’s passport evidencing their entitlement to work and contact details for the migrant, which must be provided to The Scottish FA upon request. The club will also have to comply with any other criteria set by the Home Office in order to secure leave to remain under Tier 2 or Tier 5 of the PBS.

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“A GBE under Tier 2 of the PBS will be granted for three years or the length of the migrant’s contract (whichever is shorter) and a GBE under Tier 5 of the PBS will be granted for 12 months or the length of the migrant’s contract (whichever is shorter). A migrant will not be eligible to play for/ manage/ coach the club beyond the expiry date of the GBE unless the club has applied for and obtained an Extended GBE before the existing GBE has expired in accordance with these criteria and the PBS.”

Players can also achieve an “auto pass” depending on how many international caps they hold and their country’s position in the FIFA world rankings. Those who do not qualify are graded on a points basis - judged on how many minutes they played for their previous club in both domestic and continental competition. It also takes into account the club’s final league position last season and the overall league ranking. There are points for the salary earned in relation to the league’s median average.

If the GBE is granted, the UK Home Office proceed to carry out their own checks to verify the individual’s character and background, taking into consideration the GBE from the SFA and in most cases, the player recieves the green light to obtain the necessary documents to live and work in the United Kingdom.

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Rangers were confident that incoming Ecuadorian midfielder Jose Cifuentes met the criteria in both Glasgow and London in order to complete his £1.2million transfer from the Major League Soccer (MLS), and so that proved the case with his signing announcement expected in the next 24 hours.

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Finally, FIFA will be asked to grant an International Transfer Certificate for the player in question, which is often a relatively straightforward process once the respective clubs are in agreement and the immigration documents are received. It can occasionally take a while longer if a piece of paperwork is missing, but more often than not it is a formality.

How does the process work for temporary transfers/loans?

Section 11, 12 and 13 read: Loans are only permissible within the Player’s current period of approval and should not be used to avoid making extension or change of employment applications.

“If a Player is moving to another club in the UK on a loan basis, their parent club must notify the Home Office of the fact that they have temporarily moved location. There is no requirement for the loanee club to submit an application to The Scottish FA or for the Player to meet any conditions such as meeting the English language requirement of the Immigration Rules. The loaning club retains overall responsibility for the Player as their employer and sponsor and they are granted permission to move temporarily under the provisions of their current leave, provided that the Certificate of Sponsorship issued by the loaning club is valid for the duration of the loan period. If the loan is later made permanent, the new club will, at this time, have to make a fresh application on behalf of the player. Clubs should note that the change of employment process must be fully completed before the Player can play as a permanent employee of the new club.

“Where a Player is moving to a club outside the UK on a temporary transfer basis, their parent club must again inform the Home Office of the Player’s technical change.”

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