Commonwealth Esports Championships – visas for participants

Jack Freeland, Immigration Specialist, in our Esports Group, discusses the first ever Commonwealth Esports Championships that are launching this weekend in the UK. This article covers essential information for all overseas participants attending the event, from which is the most suitable visa to questions regarding accepting prize money.

5 August 2022

Esports will this year feature in the Commonwealth Games for the first time. Alongside the Commonwealth Esports Championships, the Commonwealth Esports Forum will be held at the same venue on 5 August. The Forum will bring together thought leaders and idea creators to discuss business opportunities and current issues in the esports sector.

Competitors and businesses will be travelling to the UK from around the world to participate in the Esports Championships and Forum. All non-British or Irish citizens need permission to enter the UK to participate in the events.

The UK visit visa

As the Championships is a one-off event, and competitors will not be remaining in the UK after the Championships have finished, the most suitable option is 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 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, and there are restrictions on certain business activities and receiving payment in the UK.

Depending on the person’s nationality, they may need to apply for their 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, but 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.

Can esports competitors receive payment in the UK?

While visit visas are generally used for holidays, and have a general prohibition on working in the UK, esports competitors can enter the UK on a visit visa to participate in tournaments and events.

The biggest prize at the Championships is the gold medal, but some competitors may be receiving prize money or payments for appearing at the 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, and provide the invitation letter and details of their engagement to immigration officers.

Other business participants

Staged in parallel to the inaugural Championships, the Commonwealth Esports Forum will bring together leading voices in esports business and academia to debate important issues facing the sector. Those attending 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 Forum. 

The same general prohibition on working and receiving payment from UK sources applies, but there are also permitted exceptions for visitors to the UK for business. 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.

Contact us

Shepherd and Wedderburn’s dedicated esports team will be attending a number of industry events over the summer of 2022, including ESI London, hosted by Esports Insider. If you have any queries, or would like a copy of our esports credentials, please contact Jack Freeland.