Tier 4 Visa Eligibility – So… can international students play?

This week the British American Football Association released a statement, sharing their stance on concerns raised across the community regarding the eligibility of student-athletes in the UK via a Tier 4 Visa to play in the BAFA National Leagues.

However, BAFA’s statement appears to have left many in the Britball community with just as many questions as answers, and eagerly seeking further clarification.

The core question?

Can International Students with Tier 4 Visas play this summer?

I spoke further on the matter with BAFA Director of Competitions, Steve Rains, and the clearest way we can answer that question is as follows:

If you’re a Tier 4 Visa holder:

BAFA say you CAN play. However, YOU have to decide whether you SHOULD.

What does that mean?

Ultimately, this question is a lot bigger that Britball, and in the grand scheme of things perhaps the only people that can provide a clear answer in this matter are the Home Office. This is an ongoing situation, and even BUCS haven’t yet established clear definitive answers to the question despite communicating directly with the Home Office.

As noted, BAFA are continuing to seek further information, working with BUCS and other sporting National Governing Bodies to clarify the situation, but there’s yet to be a clear resolution.

As such, BAFA can only view the matter as it relates to their own rules and regulations, and though we saw them this week take wide-reaching action to resolve an uncovered situation relating to the eligibility for National League insurance for Foreign Nationals, here the situation is far more simple:

There is nothing in the BAFA regulations that prohibit Tier 4 Visa holders from participating in BAFA National League activities. 

Indeed, their statement on Foreign National eligibility even specified Tier 4 Visa holders as one of the exceptions to the ‘normal residency’ requirement of BAFA’s National League insurance policy.

So, yes. So long as you’re appropriately registered (which would also require you to submit evidence of eligibility to eligibility@BritishAmericanFootball.org) you CAN play.

However, doing so would come with a number of potentially very significant risks attached.

What risks?

Were you to have been found to breach the terms of your Visa policy, your visa could be revoked, meaning you would be unable to remain in the UK to complete your course of study.

Further, the consequences could be even more severe for the institution at which you’re studying, as they could ultimately have their visa licence revoked and therefore forced to forfeit their ability to offer courses to international students.

The problem is, it’s not entirely clear whether participation in an entirely amateur sport, such as British American Football, would breach the updated policy.


So, if I play, I’ll get kicked off my course and out of the country?

Frustratingly, it’s impossible at present to give an answer more accurate than: Maybe?

Even BUCS’ own guidance sent out to institutions stated they believe the update to be unclear, and while they recommend students to not engage in sporting activities outside of BUCS, this is to err on the side of caution, for the protection of their members and member institutions, than a definitive understanding that participation would be a breach of Tier 4 Visa guidelines.


So, what can I do?

As the BAFA statement recommends, students on Tier 4 Visas should speak to their Institution for further information.

If you’re a student in the UK with a Tier 4 Visa hoping to play in the National Leagues this summer seek written clearance from the institution to participate in the BAFA National Leagues, emphasising and providing evidence of the completely amateur nature of the British game. (BAFA Regulation 2.7)

Different Universities appear to be taking quite different stances, with University’s such as Essex and Bournemouth reportedly issuing ‘blanket bans’ on their Tier 4 students participating in non-BUCS sports, while we’re also hearing of other Universities that have given their students the go-ahead to participate this summer.

As noted in The Guardian’s piece exploring the matter, the Home Office have explicitly stated:

“It is incorrect to suggest students on a Tier 4 visa cannot play amateur sport.”

However, until the situation is further clarified, it is a decision that only you as an individual can make.


BAFA say you CAN play. However, YOU have to decide whether you SHOULD.



Some background:

In January 2019, UK Visas and Immigration released updated policy guidance concerning Tier 4 visas, with reference to the definition of a ‘Professional Sportsperson’. These amendments called into question the eligibility of Tier 4 Visa students to engage in ANY sporting activities outside BUCS-led events, leading to the subject becoming a hot topic of debate within the Britball community.

The UKVI are reportedly intending to review their updated definitions, but there is no clear timeline of when this would occur.




Nick 'Willy Tee' Wilson-Town hails from the South West where he's spent the last decade bouncing around various teams at the university and senior level. He came to fame on the now departed unofficial forum thanks to his regularly irreverent Uniball predictions and general 'BUAFL wafflage'. Follow him on twitter @WillyTee1