Understanding visas for overseas esports competitors coming to the UK

Jack Freeland, Immigration Specialist for Shepherd and Wedderburn‘s dedicated esports group, writes for Esports Insider to explain UK visas for esports athletes and staff who are coming to compete in the country.

Image Credit: British Esports Federation

For the first time, esports was featured in the Commonwealth Games. Malaysia topped the medals table in the debut Commonwealth Esports Championships earlier this month. Moreover, thought leaders from the scene attended the Commonwealth Esports Forum to discuss business opportunities and current issues in the esports sector.

The Commonwealth event is the latest example of competitors and businesses from around the world travelling to the UK to participate in esports. Given the country’s growing emphasis on competitive gaming there will certainly be more opportunities for players to compete.

In particular, the construction of dedicated esports arenas and venues, such as the one being built in Dundee, are already underway. All non-British or Irish citizens need permission to enter the UK to participate in such events, and it’s important they obtain the correct visa to suit their needs.

The UK visit visa

In most cases, esports competitors will travel to the UK to participate in a one-off competition and will not remain in the country after the event has finished. So, the most suitable option will be the UK visit visa. Countries such as the USA and Germany operate dedicated visa schemes for esports competitors who want to stay longer than six months to train and participate in competitions. The UK, however, does not.

The visit visa does what it says on the tin; holders can stay in the UK for up to six months for a visit. Visit visa holders are not authorised to work in the UK. Additionally, there are restrictions on certain business activities as well as receiving payment in the UK.

Depending on the person’s nationality, they may need to apply for a visit visa before travelling to the UK. The Home Office has a list of nationalities that are required to apply for a visit visa prior to travelling to the UK, known as ‘visa nationals’.

A national of any country that is not included in this list is known as a ‘non-visa national’. A non-visa national can normally seek entry as a visitor on arrival in the UK. However, they must still satisfy the visit visa requirements and should be prepared to explain the purpose of their visit to immigration officers at the border.

They should also be prepared to provide any relevant evidence, such as an invitation letter from a UK organisation or evidence that they will return to their home country after their visit.

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Can esports competitors receive payment in the UK?

While visit visas are typically used for holidays — and have a general prohibition when it comes to working in the UK — esports competitors can enter the UK on a visit visa to participate in tournaments and events.

Some competitors may receive prize money or payments for appearing at an event. Although the visit visa generally prohibits receiving payment from UK sources, there is an exception to allow competitors to receive prize money and reasonable expenses to cover the cost of their travel and subsistence.

UK immigration law does not allow esports competitors to receive additional payments for appearing at events, unless they have been invited to the UK by a ‘creative organisation, agent or broadcaster based in the UK’. This is known as a Permitted Paid Engagement, which allows entertainers or sporting professionals to be paid for appearing and performing at events for a maximum of one month.

Esports competitors who expect to receive these payments will need to obtain a letter from the organisation inviting them to the UK, and visa nationals must provide the letter as supporting evidence with their visa application. Non-visa nationals seeking entry at the border must specifically request entry for their Permitted Paid Engagement, as well as provide the invitation letter and details of their engagement to immigration officers.

Other business participants

Those attending esports events on behalf of their business or organisation will also require visa permission to enter the UK if they are not British or Irish citizens. The visit visa is again the most suitable option for those who don’t intend to remain in the UK after the event. 

The same general prohibition on working and receiving payment from UK sources applies, but there are also permitted exceptions. As long as the business activities in the UK are linked to the person’s employment overseas, and their business in the UK is incidental to their employment, carrying out business in the UK on a visit visa is permitted. Business visitors can attend conferences, give presentations or speeches, negotiate and sign deals and contracts, and attend trade fairs for promotional work.

If the person coming to the UK is still being paid by their overseas employer, there is no issue with receiving payment from their work undertaken in the UK.

Shepherd and Wedderburn’s dedicated Esports Group will be attending a number of industry events this summer, including ESI London on Tuesday, September 6th.

Esports Insider

Written in collaboration with Shepherd and Wedderburn.