Recent Changes to the Visa Rules Regarding Foreign Players and Governing Body Endorsements (GBEs) in UK Football
In episode 18 of this blog series on the world of football back in April 2022, we assessed the impact of Brexit on football in the United Kingdom and across Europe and the rest of the world. Rules had been introduced into British football restricting the free movement of players into the country and aimed to encourage the growth of homegrown youth development. For the 2023/24 season, these regulations have been significantly amended.
In this blog we will revisit the rules around Governing Body Endorsements, aim to understand the new changes recently passed and approved by the UK Government and the English Football Association (FA), and understand the new concept of ‘ESC’ players.
The Brexit Rules
Prior to the Brexit vote, the Premier League and UK football benefitted from the wide talent pool available for employment in the European Union. As a part of the EU, there was free movement for all members and transfers of footballers in and out of the UK was simple, with minimal burden. The immigration act of 2021 ended the automatic free-movement right of EU nationals to live and work in the UK.
For football this meant that the governing body, the FA, along with the Premier League and the EFL, introduced a points based immigration system that outlined the criteria required of potential players and managers that may be transferred to the UK. Those that meet the criteria are considered as obtaining a governing body endorsement (GBE). The responsibility of acquiring a GBE for signing players lies with the signing club.
A GBE is awarded on a points-based system and is granted by the FA if a player reaches 15 points. There is also an ‘autopass rule’ which applies to those that have played a certain percentage of minutes (over the last 12 months) for their national team that is ranked in the top 50 by FIFA. This includes over 70% of any of the top 50 ranked international teams or above 30% of minutes for those nations ranked in the top 10. These players are immediately given a GBE and are able to play for a club in the UK.
Those that do not meet the autopass rule are required to achieve 15 points through other means. To accumulate these points the FA also takes into consideration the quality of the selling club, the division they compete in, their league position and their continental cup progression. Individual statistics are also accounted for; specifically club appearances and the percentage of minutes played for the selling club. These points are formulated based on a banded or tiered system for clubs and divisions. For example, those competing for a club in the Bundesliga or La Liga will receive more generous points as they are playing at the first banded level of clubs.
The Introduction of ESC Players
The latest changes to the regulations which will come into force for the 2023/24 season introduce the possibility of English clubs signing ESC players. The status of an ESC player is equivalent to obtaining a GBE and allows them to register and play for an English club if they meet the alternative criteria for an ESC player in the case that they do not meet the required 15 points for a GBE or are granted one via the exceptions panel.
The fundamental premise of the ESC player criteria is that the potential signing player is of an elite level and will make a significant contribution to football in the UK. The criteria requires that in the ‘ESC Player Reference Period’ (the 24 months prior to the date on which the application for an ESC player GBE is made) the player must have satisfied one or more of the following:
- Played in one or more youth international matches for a country in the top 50 of the FIFA world rankings
- Played in five or more youth international matches for a country outside the top 50 of the FIFA world rankings
- Played in one or more continental youth competition matches
- Played in five or more domestic youth competition matches
- Played in one or more senior international matches for a country in the top 50 of the FIFA world rankings
- Played in five or more senior international matches for a country outside the top 50 of the FIFA world rankings
- Played in one or more continental competition matches
- Played in five or more domestic competition matches
This evidently makes it much easier for a foreign player to be eligible to sign and play for a club in the English leagues. However, limits still remain for all clubs as to how many ESC player spaces they have for the 2023/24 season onwards. Every club from the Premier League and through the English Football League to League 2 will be entitled to fill up to 2 spaces for ESC players. There is then an additional leeway for clubs in the Premier League and Championship (top two divisions) which allows clubs to have two further ESC spaces available if they exceed 35% of ‘weighted EQP minutes’. A summary is shown in the table below for the 2023/24 season:
‘EQP minutes percentage’ refers to the percentage of minutes given to English Qualified Players’ by the club in question. Put simply, if the club still facilitates homegrown player development by giving them significant game playing time, they will be entitled to more ESC spaces. This is to help protect the initiative of increasing the number of players that are eligible to play for England representing the top professional clubs.
Weighted EQP minutes percentage is calculated using EQP minutes, non-EQP minutes and the total minutes (calculated by subtracting the non-EQP minutes from the EQP minutes) from each EQP qualifying match. Then the EQP minutes percentage for each qualifying match is given by calculating:
(EQP Minutes / Total Minutes) x 100 = EQP Minutes Percentage
These are then summed together to give cumulative figures across the seasons of each EQP reference period, dismissing the top four and bottom four matches when placed in ranking order. 50% of minutes played by an EQP of the club that has been loaned to another club will also be added to the clubs cumulative EQP and total minutes. Then the final weighted EQP minutes percentage is found by using the following formula:
(Cumulative EQP Minutes / Cumulative Total Minutes) x 100 = Weighted EQP Minutes Percentage
It is vital to understand that an EQP qualifying match simply refers to matches in the Premier League, Championship, League One, League Two, continental competitions such as the Champions League, the FA Cup 5th Round and further (or the quarter final and further if a PL club), and the quarter final and further of the league cup (or semi-final if PL club).
From the 2024/25 season onwards, ESC places will solely be determined by the statistic of weighted EQP minutes percentage as will be awarded as below. Importantly to note, any reduction in available ESC places as a result will not affect players that are already permanently transferred or loaned to the club, it will only affect the possibility of them recruiting additional ESC players until they have another space available:
Significantly, an ESC place may become available if after 12 months of signing an ESC player, the club applies for them to become a non-ESC player. This is possible if they meet the autopass percentage of international appearances, if they achieve 15 points or more for a GBE or if they play in 25% of the EQP qualifying matches and the required percentage of available minutes.
We hope that this blog has enhanced your understanding of the new changes to foreign players and their eligibility to register and play for English clubs. Although this blog provides a succinct explanation as to how the new ESC concept will function alongside the GBEs, it is important to ensure you understand the terminology and calculations that will be used by the FA and further details on how the new regulations will be implemented. Keep an eye out for our upcoming Youtube video on the topic on our channel.
Don’t forget we are also running an online course providing the perfect preparation for how to pass the FIFA football agent exam on the 12th August. You can register for the course by clicking here. Alternatively, for readers based in Germany, we are also conducting an in-person event in Frankfurt on the 2nd September which you can register for by clicking here.