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Work Permit Rules Need to be Revisited

As the Premier League become more and more international (something I personally object to, but a reality nonetheless) the UK Home Office continues to subject potential transfers who are not holders of a European Union passport to a highly subjective standard for whether or not they will be granted a work permit in the UK. As an American I have seen several potential moves quashed in recent years among my countrymen: DaMarcus Beasley to Southampton, Bobby Convey to Spurs, Greg Dalby to Preston and Josh Wolff to Derby County among others.The standard applied by the UK Home Office states that A player must have played for his country in at least 75% of its competitive ‘A’ team matches he was available for selection, during the two years preceding the date of the application; and, The player’s country must be at or above 70th place in the official FIFA world rankings when averaged over the two years preceding the date of the application.”For example if you look at Major League Soccer’s top players a clear double standard would exist as to who is able to play in the Premier League. The reigning Superliga champions New England Revolution, boast Taylor Twellman a goal scoring threat unequaled in MLS over the last seven seasons. Twellman would, based on his sporadic call ups to the US National Team not be granted a UK work permit. However, Gonzalo Segaras of the Chicago Fire likely would be granted a work permit because of his repeated call ups to the Costa Rica National Team. Now Segaras is a nice player, but between Twellman and Segaras which player is likely to contribute more to the high standard of the English Premier League?Let’s take another example from Major League Soccer. DC United is the most accomplished club in the history of the league. Ivan Guerrero is United’s left flank midfielder who has played for three MLS clubs in ten months. He’s a journeyman by every standard, but due to Honduras presence in the Top 70 of FIFA’s rankings over the past two years and his repeated call ups to the National Team he’d receive a work permit. Last year’s MLS MVP, Luciano Emilio is Brazilian and has never been capped despite playing many years in the Bundesliga and Mexican First Division. No reasonable argument can be made that Guerrero is a better player for the PL than Emilio. After all it is much easier to be called into the Honduras squad than the Brazil squad.Looking at the Mexican Football league several similar cases would exist. Christian Gimenez an Argentine that has led Pachuca to several continental and domestic titles would not get a work permit while Daniel Osorno who flopped last year in MLS and is now playing in Primera A (the Mexican Second Division) would for the August window remain eligible to gain a work permit. Osorno may not receive the permit if he applied, but based on the criteria he’d have a much better shot than Gimenez.Last year’s bad publicity around the Home Office’s unwillingness to bend the rigid and subjective Work Permit rules to allow Manchester City to sign Nashat Akram who had captained his Iraqi side to an Asian Cup triumph brought some much needed scrutiny to the process. Going forward however, the entire system needs to be overhauled. Incorporate common sense into making decisions about what players are allowed to sign in the Premier League and what players cannot. While the 75% and top seventy rankings rule represent a good starting point for making decisions about players they should not be uniform standards that do not take into account player quality, testimonials from other footballers and beyond everything else common sense.

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  1. Lonnie

    August 19, 2008 at 9:17 am

    The Home Office rule is why clubs like Arsenal and Manchester United have established strong links with clubs in Belgium. They can get their foreign players EU status after a couple of years and no worries about appeals or padded envelopes being slid under tables.

  2. Kartik Krishnaiyer

    August 18, 2008 at 12:32 pm

    Ian, the rules are illogical.

    For example Josh Wolff had played in two world cups but because he was left off the Gold Cup squad twice once due to injury and another time because he had played in the Confederations Cup which ended a week before the Gold Cup began he did not meet the 75% and then Derby lost the appeal to sign him. Yet somehow Eddie Johnson got a work permit to play for Fulham despite featuring less regularly (under Arena) and having fewer caps than Wolff. He fell short of the 75% but won his appeal which Wolff did not.

    All the Alves case tells me is that Boro did a good job in that particular case. I’m glad they got Alves but the rejection of Akram who captained his team to an Asian Cup triumph and whose side because of war has played too few games to be ranked highly by FIFA was downright criminal as some MPs indicated after the decision was made.

  3. Ian

    August 18, 2008 at 10:21 am

    Alves case not withstanding far too many accomplished internationals have been turned down for a permit while other less worthy cases have been accepted by the home office. The most poignant and appropriate statement of this entire article was the last line about common sense. Very rarely if ever does the home office apply it with regards to work permits for footballers.

  4. Phil McThomas

    August 17, 2008 at 11:08 pm

    The Home Office have a very reasonable policy of allowing appeals to their qualitative criteria, which are often successful. Alfonso Alves happens to be forefront in my mind – no chance of playing a lot of games for Brazil, but sailed through the clearance process. It happens all the time.

    I think the numeric formula is for automatic approval only.

  5. The Gaffer

    August 17, 2008 at 8:30 pm


    I’m curious. Which were the more insulting posts you mentioned?

    Thanks for the kind words about the site.

    The Gaffer

  6. Ray

    August 17, 2008 at 3:53 pm

    After two of the more insulting posts ever on this fine website a nice bounce back effort from someone I thought should be sent to a halfway house. Your piece is accurate and well thought out, but one thing I am wondering is how would you solve the problem?

    The Home Office is not going to relinquish authority for this to footballing people because they fear then that every permit will be approved. So how do you solve it?

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