Non-European footballers who cannot speak English will be barred from England's big-money Premier League under tougher immigration rules to be introduced this year, reports said Wednesday.
A new points-based system covering skilled migrants from outside Europe applying to work in Britain includes the introduction of an English language test, covering everyday phrases and simple conversation.
Immigration minister Liam Byrne said Premier League footballers from South America, Africa and Asia and other elite sportsmen and women living and working in Britain would not be exempt from the beefed-up rules.
“It is a basic requirement that they have some command of English,” he said in comments reported by the Guardian daily.
Byrne said if the more stringent rules had been in place last year, 20,000 fewer migrants would have come to Britain.
“Our new points system means that British jobseekers get the first crack of the whip and that only skilled migrants we actually need will be able to come,” he said.
“By moving points up or down, we can make sure the numbers we allow into the UK are in line with the needs of business and the country as a whole.”
Foreign players and coaches have flooded into the English Premier League since increased TV revenues allowed clubs to pay some of the biggest salaries of any football league in Europe.
One major club, London-based Arsenal, has fielded teams without a single British player and Arsenal are coached by Arsene Wenger, a Frenchman.
England's new coach, Italian Fabio Capello, meanwhile, has been speaking his native tongue at press conferences to date claiming his English is not up to the mark.
Ministers said however that entertainers and sportsmen and women coming to Britain to perform at one-off events and festivals, such as the 2012 London Olympics or the annual arts extravaganza at the Edinburgh festival, will not have to fulfill the new requirements.
They will instead be covered by a new business visitors' visa to be unveiled later this year.
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