Home Office Agreed Criteria
- FURTHER INFORMATION
Further to the update which went out last night, the Home Office have now agreed the criteria, as set out below. Thus, those with sponsor licences who play the high and medium goal may now apply for visas.
These criteria have only been achieved after lengthy and frustrating negotiations. They are significantly different and remain far from what the HPA considers to be appropriate for our sport.
As you should be aware, as per the proposals put forward in October by the Home Office, polo below 12 goal and any ancillary polo businesses were excluded completely, and only non EEA players of 5 goals and above would have been able to come to the UK on a visa. Moreover, grooms would only have been eligible for a Tier 5 visa if they:
(a) accompanied one such player and (b) that player was playing for an ‘overseas team’ playing the 15 goal or above and (c) the groom was part of the team entourage and (d) had been working for that team for a period of time and (e) only worked for non EEA players. A UK player or a player here as an EU citizen would not have been allowed to bring his grooms whatever team he was in. For example, migrant grooms would not have been allowed to work for or come with an Argentine player if he had come here on his Spanish passport. These proposals were considered unacceptable by the HPA.
Until new criteria were agreed, the HPA was not allowed to issue any endorsements, even if the players and grooms qualified under the proposed criteria above. At 16:45 on 19 January, 15 minutes before the HPA met with Counsel to finalise preparations for the hearing on 25 January, the HPA received a letter from the Home Office lifting the ban but imposing revised criteria. The legal advice was that the lifting of the ban removed a substantial part of the case for the Interim Relief hearing although these revised criteria still did not accommodate migrants (players or grooms) for any polo activity below 15 goals.
Following negotiations that continued until yesterday evening, the Home Office made further critical revisions to the criteria for medium and high goal. Thus the revised criteria now allow professionals of 4 goals and above to play the medium and high goal and, more importantly, any player playing the medium or high goal to bring in grooms on a visa, with an overall limit of 500 grooms. To give an indication of the difficulties that the HPA faced in reaching agreement, as recently as yesterday morning the revised Home Office criteria stated that players and grooms could only be sponsored by a team and not an individual. Anyone who understands polo would realise that this would not be practical or sensible. Further detailed written submissions were made and another telecon took place yesterday afternoon at which that restriction was lifted.
The final criteria do allow players to employ grooms direct but they do not allow a migrant player or a migrant groom to play or work in polo below medium goal as this is deemed by the Home Office to be supplementary work. Thus, a player will have to use UK or EU grooms at all polo below 15 goals. The fact that the Home Office will not move on this might give you some idea of the struggle and why we have only managed to get what we have got so far, and please be aware that the Home Office have already indicated that they wish to get to a position where only migrant players can bring in migrant grooms.
Throughout the process we have argued very hard on behalf of all those involved in the low goal. Those arguments initially sought to maintain the previous criteria in respect of low goal but the Home Office were adamant that there was to be no movement and no provision for permits to be issued in the low goal. During both discussions with the Home Office yesterday we renewed the case for relief in the low goal. Notwithstanding all our efforts the Home Office remained implacably opposed and would not even consider allowing a one year reprieve for the 2017 season to allow non-EEA grooms to come over this year and provide training to EU grooms in the schooling of ponies for polo. The Home Office’s complete intransigence on this issue and apparent indifference to the welfare and other issues arising is a matter of great concern. The Home Office has maintained this position in spite of all the discussions, informal and formal, and letters that have been written setting out the impact on the polo that more than 2000 of our members play, upon grassroots polo and local businesses and clubs. Bar those who only play high and/or medium goal, the Home Office stance will affect all players who rely on foreign grooms to prepare, train and maintain ponies during the season. It will also impact those who rely on renting horses to play and will give rise to welfare and health and safety issues. The Home Office expressly acknowledged the consequences of their decision in their correspondence and their unambiguous approach is clearly summarised below (with our emphasis applied):
“Whilst the proposals of 11 October 2016 may be detrimental to the development of the game at the grass roots level of the sport, it is not the intention of the Immigration Rules to support the lowest levels of the game in the UK through permitting endorsements for players or grooms under the Tier 2 or Tier 5 sportsperson routes.”
The HPA is taking legal advice on the appropriate steps to minimise and perhaps reverse the detrimental effect that the Home Office criteria will have on polo and polo played in the UK by the vast majority of our members. We will of course provide you with updates as the proceedings move on. For the moment can we urge you to prepare for the coming season as best you can within the current restrictions.