Do the new work permit rules in the UK open doors for North Americans?

This article was initially scheduled to go out as part of the Tuesdays are for Europe series, but it was bumped to continue the discussion about the need for a Canadian women’s professional solution.   

Stick to sports is an annoying call that readers and listeners rarely yell when they agree with your politics. Funny that.

It’s also a bit silly, as politics and sports are interwoven. Although you can aspire to mostly talk about scoreboard issues, it is next to impossible to completely avoid all political topics.

That’s especially the case in an international game like soccer, where it’s important to understand the political dynamics around the world.  

A perfect example of that is Brexit. Whether you sympathized with the Stay or Leave side of the debate, you need to be aware that there will be changes to how your favourite sport will operate in the UK as a result of the decision of Great Britain to remove itself from the European Union.

The purpose of this article isn’t to break down all the ways that it will affect teams in the UK (there are other places to get that info), but rather to look specifically at what it might mean to Canadians and Americans that are looking to make a move to either England or Scotland to play.

So, what will it mean?

It’s complicated. If you have a love of reading legal documents, you can sludge through all the rules here, but the tl;dr is that there is a points system in place now that applies to anyone not from the UK (and possibly Ireland – it’s unclear if Ireland will get an exception based on the Common Travel Area agreement it has with the UK).

In theory, it should be easier for North Americans to attract the interest of UK based teams under these new rules. Not easy, but rather easier, as now they aren’t at a disadvantage when being compared to players that previously did not require a work permit due to being from an EU country.

You see, the new rules have been loosened for non-Europeans. This was largely at the request of the bigger clubs in the Premier League, who were primarily interested in swooping up young South Americans. However, those north of Panama also benefit from the changes.

The simplest way to qualify hasn’t changed. That’s found by being a full international for a top 50 team in the world. For Americans (currently ranked No 22) that means that anyone who has played in more than 60% of the US’ games is automatically in.

If the Americans can get that ranking up three spots into the top 20 then the amount of games needed will drop even further to 40%.

Canada, however, isn’t so lucky. Currently ranked 72nd, the best a Canadian can hope for is to gain points towards qualification for the work permit by playing more than 90% of national team games. Those who do that would gain two points.

You need 15 points to qualify. Ten will earn you the right to appeal to a panel to get a wavier.

So, how do you get the other 13 points if you’re a Canadian (other than winning things with the national team so the ranking gets into the top 50)? Well, you do so through your club play.

Basically, you have to play a lot for your team and your team needs to win (and to qualify for the continental competition). If you’re in Europe now it will be a lot easier, but earning a move straight to the UK from MLS is going to be challenging for a Canadian (and pretty much impossible for players to do from the CanPL). Americans not in the national team picture that are playing in MLS face the same challenges.

That’s because MLS has been classified as a 4th tier league (out of six). CanPL is a tier 6 league and LigaMX is a tier 3.

The point system is too detailed to break down fully, but it would require a near perfect season for someone to gain enough points to directly qualify from MLS.

Let’s create a hypothetical player. We’ll call him Ronathan Gosario.

As a regular starter on the Canadian national team and on a title contenting MLS team that is playing in the CCL (provided they beat the Ramilton Torge in a play-in game, of course), Gosario could, in theory, qualify for a permit if:

  • He played 90% of Canada’s games for 2pts

  • He played in 90% of his tier 4 club’s minutes for 6pts

  • He played in 90% of his club’s minutes in the CCL for 2pts

  • His club won a tier 4 championship for 3pts

  • His club won the CCL for 2pts.

If all of that happened then he would *just* qualify for the permit. As stated, if he were to fall short of the perfect season he still might be able to get in through the appeal panel if he hit 10 pts.

So, Osorio should probably stay in Toronto. Sorry, I mean Gosario. It’s probably worth noting that Alphonso Davies would not have qualified under this system (he would now as a starter on a tier 1 league team in the Champions League).

NOTE: The women have it easier as the national ranking of both Canada and the United States will get any regular national team player through the door without worrying about points.

The bottom line is that the best way to get to the UK is to either have a grandparent from Bristol or Birmingham or Brighton, etc., or for Canada to get its act together and get into the top 50. In the meantime, and for those who can’t get a passport, there is a slight improvement, but it still is far more likely that they gain a move to a stepping stone European league first.  

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