In December 2018, a White Paper was published which highlighted how the UK immigration system would be reformed so as to make the UK immigration system fairer (and more welcoming for business).
Unfortunately it would appear that sports and students were neglected yet again.
Universities have to hold a special sponsor licence in order to be able to have non-EU nationals study in the UK. This makes universities an arm of immigration enforcement as universities are liable for the immigration compliance of their sponsored students. So regulations which limit the engagement of foreign students in sport is naturally going to be an area of concern for universities.
At a time when the UK is looking to compete in the international arena (and demonstrate that it is a world player not bogged down by parliamentary spats and Brexit) visa regulations such as this are quite damaging.
The Home Office were quick to state publicly that Tier 4 students can play amateur sport but the problem comes in the very broad definition of professional sports person and the aggressive sanctions placed on universities if their students do not comply with immigration law.
A professional sportsperson is, broadly speaking, any person who in the past four years has received payment for playing sport (which includes academy development teams, youth teams or state/regional teams). For a large number of overseas students who may have previously held a scholarship connected to their athletic ability, this is a problem.
For universities, it is a lose-lose. Recruit students from abroad and you will be forced to limit their sporting activities or apply a more relaxed interpretation of the regulations and risk the wrath of the Home Office (and loss of your sponsor licence). Lose-Lose.
As a result, and based on the information provided by the Home Office and BUCS, they had to issue a blanket ban on Tier 4 students playing outside of BUCS.” “We just can’t risk it,” said Barry Squires, business and partnerships manager at the University of Bournemouth. “The decision from our immigration adviser, who has a direct link in to the UK visa authority, is that Tier 4 students can’t play.” A Home Office spokesman said: “It is incorrect to suggest students on a Tier 4 visa cannot play amateur sport.” Privately, however, the department acknowledges the problem.