At first blush one would not think that a famous rugby club would have anything to do with the UK’s system of immigration control.It emerged last week that Saracens had fielded an ineligible player in a European Champions Cup match on 19 January 2020 against the Parisian rugby union club, Racing 92, which Saracens won 27-24. The narrow victory eased Saracens into the quarter-finals.The player in question is the USA capped international 24-year-old Titi Lamositele, who signed for Saracens in 2015 and has since made 53 appearances.The player’s “work permit” expired on 18 January 2020, the day before the match and he therefore no longer had any lawful permission to work.The issue was picked up by the European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) who received evidence from Saracens that the expiry of the work permit was "due to an inadvertent administrative error on behalf of the club".At a disciplinary hearing on Friday, 8 February 2020 the Sarries were fined €50,000 (half of which is suspended until the end of next season) for fielding a player without a valid work permit. The club may well be mightily relieved at the level of the financial penalty, having escaped the ultimate sanction of expulsion from the competition.The media focus has very much been on the disciplinary sanctions in the sport.However there are undoubtedly potentially serious consequences for both the club and the player in their failure to comply with the UK’s internal immigration control regime.

The Club

The UK operates a points-based system for admission of foreign workers. Special rules apply for bringing overseas sportspeople. The club, Saracens Limited London, is an A-rated sponsor, enabling it to sponsor overseas sportspeople such as Lamositele. Any employer seeking to sponsor workers from outside the European Union must have a sponsorship licence, issued by the Home Office. Currently there are 28,945 employers holding sponsorship licences. Employers who breach the terms of their sponsorship licence face the prospect of sanctions and ultimately the loss of the licence. Employing a worker beyond the expiry of their permission to work may cause difficulty for the Club’s sponsorship licence.Employing a worker who no longer has permission to work can also attract civil penalties. The Home Office provides extensive guidance detailing the operation of the regime of civil penalties. The penalty per illegal worker is £20,000, but discounts are available including for prompt payment. It is possible in the case of Saracens that the Home Office will administer a warning, but that will very much depend on a number of factors, including the history of the operation of the sponsorship licence and the speed with which remedial steps have been taken.The playerThe player is liable to be considered as working illegally, because he was brought on as a substitute in the 60th minute. He is now at risk of receiving the full force of the hostile environment, designed by the government to make life as unbearable as possible for those who fail to comply with the rules. By working without permission he has committed a criminal offence. Whether that is investigated remains to be seen.His immigration status is also in question. His leave to remain in the UK presumably expired on 18 January 2020 and as a result he has become an overstayer. Overstayers are subject to numerous restrictions and face the prospect of their bank accounts being closed and their driving licences withdrawn. In 2018 4,300 driving licences were revoked due to overstaying. Being an overstayer can also have an impact on future immigration applications. For example the immigration rules provide for mandatory bans preventing future entry to the UK. Simply overstaying for 30 days would attract a mandatory ban of 12 months.The Home Office does have discretion to waive breaches of the immigration rules but the Windrush scandal demonstrates the departments continued inflexibility.Post-BrexitFollowing the UK’s exit from the EU it is highly likely that the sort of difficulties encountered by Saracens will become far more frequent. The UK’s system of internal control is set to be rolled out to apply to European workers, including sports stars, after the expiry of the transitional arrangements at the end of 2020.Organisations like Saracens have our enormous sympathy in navigating the complex and often unforgiving nature of the system.It is essential to have a meticulous attention to detail and a thorough understanding of the regulatory framework, with careful monitoring of documentation and a holistic understanding of an individual’s immigration trajectory.Expert adviceIf you are an employer, or indeed an employee, who requires specialist guidance in connection with the points-based system or any aspect of your personal immigration plans do please get in touch with our appointment secretary Dionne Smith on 0208 885 7979 or and an appointment can be arranged with a member of our team.Michael HanleySenior Partner

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