Thousands of professional footballers in the UK will be back at work this weekend as the new domestic league season begins in England (Scotland’s began last weekend). However, there is one club in west London who will start the new campaign without one of their key employees due to evidently poor compliance and recruitment procedures.
Brazilian international footballer Sandro has been attending training sessions in his home country this week with club side Internacional after his own club, Queens Park Rangers (QPR), failed to realise that his UK work permit had expired at the start of last season in September. The error was discovered in May this year, eight months later, just before his side were due to play Manchester City in a crucial game for the club in the Premier League.
The player had been working in England since August 2010 after joining north London side Tottenham Hotspur for a fee of £9 million, where he made 81 appearance and scored three goals. He joined QPR in September 2014 for an undisclosed fee reported to be in the region of £10 million. He is an established international player, having made 17 appearances for his country, and was viewed by QPR as a key asset in their pursuit of survival in England’s top league last year (a battle they eventually lost, being relegated in May after finishing bottom of the league). He represented Brazil at the London Olympics in 2012, winning a silver medal.
Whilst there is no suggestion that QPR had made any deliberate attempt to break the rules, it became clear that the club had committed a significant and costly administrative recruitment error when completing the deal for Sandro’s services with Tottenham Hotspur. A subsequent investigation by the Home Office resulted in the club losing its sponsor license that allows an employer to apply for visas for workers from non-EU countries. The club recently announced that this had been reinstated after weeks of dialogue with the Home Office.
The employee himself, who has a £50,000 a week contract with QPR, is not allowed to return to the UK until he has secured a new work permit. In June it was rumoured that he had been deported, a story strenuously denied by the club, who said he had simply left on holiday.
This means that the club ended last season and will begin this one unable to use an asset for which they paid £10 million and who receives £2.6million a year in salary.
Tenuous links are often drawn between UK businesses and the world of professional sport. However, there is no doubt that this is an example of how a failure to observe best practice and ensure compliance when recruiting a non-EU national can lead to a huge loss of productivity and the incurring of substantial inconvenience and cost. Speaking in June, a home office official stated that clubs that ‘benefit from the immigration system’ must have ‘robust compliance systems in place or risk losing their privilege to sponsor workers’.
Even (or perhaps especially) large organisations must pay attention to their recruitment processes and ensure compliance to make certain they do not incur the kind of penalties and losses suffered by QPR. The loss of Sandro at a crucial stage in the season can be seen as a contributing factor in the clubs relegation from England’s highly lucrative top table this year after an eye-watering influx of new money from broadcasting, costing the club tens of millions of pounds. Added to their contractual obligation to continue paying a player who, as it stands, it still not able to re-enter the country, let alone come to work, the earnings of his replacement, and the decreasing value of the asset whilst it is not being used, and the costs are already astronomical.