Further into our immigration focus, Lawyer Monthly hears from Andrew Osborne, Partner at Lewis Silkin LLP on the potential Brexit effects and impacts on the sports sector, and the business therein. Here Andrew talks about the complexities involved in sports transfers, and touches on his and the firm’s thought leadership in the sports world.
You deal in UK sports and immigration matters; what kind of complexities do you encounter as these come together?
The main concern when doing sports work is usually timing. When a new player or coach joins the team, the club wants them to be available as soon as possible. This can often be a challenge where the application is being made from certain countries. This also applies to their family members, but clubs are usually very good at supporting family members joining and ensuring their player/coach is settled very quickly. Immigration from this perspective is a very personal and emotional process. It’s important we remember that the player/coach and their family are often relocating from the other side of the world and can be quite anxious. We work hard to be mindful of this and make the process as smooth and reassuring as possible. There is also the need for discretion – we are privy to information that the press and public would be very interested in, so confidentiality is crucial.
We also help clubs with pre- and post-season tours, and travel for international games. Players have such full schedules that arranging the logistics of appointments, and getting our hands on their passports for a few days, can be tough, particularly when the deadlines for a tournament are immoveable. We are lucky to have members of our team who are passionate about sport and are, as a result, aware of fixtures and training schedules. We know how to prepare applications with the minimal amount of impact on a player’s time.
So I would say the main complexity with immigration and sport is making sure applications are completed correctly and all the paperwork is in order within the allotted timeframe, with minimal impact on the player/coach. We take on the burden of this hugely bureaucratic process, away from the club and player, so that they can focus on what they do on the pitch.
What would you say are the biggest difficulties encountered in the transfers of employees between companies cross-border, and how do you navigate these?
Immigration is a very personal issue. The applicants we advise are going through a major change in their lives by transferring from one country to another. This involves all the stress of moving house but with added cultural, and sometimes, language barriers. Applicants also often have very strict time constraints with travel. They may even have moved out of their current accommodation while waiting for their visa. We need to make the visa application process as smooth as possible whilst working within a pretty inflexible system. It can often be frustrating and we need to be able to reassure and support the applicant as best as possible. We collaborate with them and their employer to make the whole process very smooth.
The introduction of additional priority and premium services in some countries (such as the US and Australia) has made the process a lot more efficient for those willing to pay. On the other hand, the introduction of the 30 day temporary Entry Clearance visa has put another timing consideration into the mix and can make the process even more complicated.
How may these difficulties change in the future, especially on the back of the recent Brexit vote?
The main concern is the pressure on the current system. While it is inflexible and requires us to do a considerable amount of planning to ensure there are no delays, the majority of applications we deal with go through without much incident. However, once there is an issue it is often very difficult to speak to someone and get an update or resolution. If the current infrastructure is expected to deal with EEA applications as well, I just don’t see how it could cope. Pilots are currently running to test online systems which might ease some of the pressure, but again, if an application is particularly tricky or requires explaining, it requires a personal review and this might take months.
When it comes to transferring athletes between clubs at an international level, what are your top priorities for the client?
Over the course of the past few years we have worked with some of the top clubs in the UK and Europe. The objective is always a successful outcome for the client. The top priorities to achieve this outcome are to get the paperwork prepared early and accurately, minimise the impact on the athlete, assess the logistical issues and offer the best solutions. Transfers generally happen in August and January so we make sure those who deal with transfers are available and have capacity to deal with these matters immediately when they arise.
Can you detail a sports matter in which you have encountered particular challenges in the past? How did you apply your thought leadership in the field to this scenario?
The most challenging transfers have involved appeals, due to the player not meeting the automatic qualifying criteria for a Governing Body Endorsement. In this case, it is very difficult to plan the visa application and all our energy is poured into preparing the appeal. Once the appeal has been successful, we have a very quick come-down from the high of achieving the GBE, to finalising the paperwork and planning where the player will be eligible to submit their visa application. The player is often in the UK for the appeal, medical or negotiations, and then they usually have to leave and re-apply to return. This requires a lot of explaining and managing the player and club’s expectations of the process from the beginning.
Players are often transferred at a time when they are on holiday or on international duty, so the challenge again is the logistics of getting them to engage in the process and taking the time to submit the application.
Over the years we have built up a lot of contacts in various countries and we could not be as successful as we are, nor ensure such a fluid process for the player, without them.
You most recently authored a publication titled ‘Immigration programmes for low-skilled labour: alternatives to freedom of movement’; what were the conclusions drawn from this piece?
That the UK has never had to develop a low-skilled immigration programme across the whole labour market. Certain schemes to allow low-skilled labour into the UK have been put in place in the past for specific industries and these may be a model for a more general system to deal with low-skilled labour. It appears that any system will have some key features:
- It will only allow workers to be in the UK for temporary periods and will not allow them to settle in the UK;
- Restrictions are likely to be placed on family members coming with a worker;
- Employers will need to be licenced to hire lower skilled workers;
- Employers will be encouraged to train local workers to take these roles.
Do you have a mantra or motto you live by in service to your clients?
We really try to get to know our clients personally. There are other firms who do what we do, and at this level you would expect the lawyer to be competent and competitive, but knowing the clients you will be working with helps you deliver your advice in a way they will want to receive it. That’s what sets our service apart from the rest. Sport doesn’t operate during office hours, so when your phone rings at 10pm on a Saturday you answer, not because it’s your job, but because you know the person calling, have a relationship with them and you want to help them. I think that’s important and why we try meet our clients in person regularly.