By Christopher R. Hallenbrook
Assistant Professor of Political Science
California State University, Dominguez Hills
Growing rugby league internationally requires developing both domestic competitions and national teams in all corners of the globe. Domestic competitions allow for regular playing time and exposure to domestic fans. But as players in developing rugby league nations improve their skills, some may look to England and the Rugby Football League (RFL) as a way to improve their skills and earn a living playing rugby league (especially players in the Northern Hemisphere). But the process to get the visa necessary to play professionally in the UK requires that national teams be active and playing frequent test matches.
Why? Anyone seeking to play professionally (Super League, Championship or League One) in the UK requires an international sportsperson’s visa. The basic qualifications are set by the government, and available here. The process requires the player’s visa application be endorsed by their sport’s governing body, which gives the Rugby Football League the ability to control who has the opportunity to play in the UK. Unless the player has extensive experience playing NRL and/or Origin in Australia or two years as a starter in French Elite 1, they must have played for their national team in order to get the RFL’s endorsement. Specifically, they must meet each of the following three requirements.
1) played in the 2017 RWLC; if they were not in the RWLC, they can meet this requirement by playing in 50% of International Rugby League (IRL) recognized test matches in the last two years prior to the via application (3 years if no tests were played in the last 2 years)
2) played in 40% of IRL recognized tests since October 1, 2017
(After October 15, 2022, these requirements are in RWLC 2021 for requirement #1 and since
October 1, 2018 for requirement #2)
3) meet a minimum salary threshold. Their prospective club must prove to the RFL that they are prepared to pay the player £10,000 a year if in League One; £17,500 if in the Championship; and enough money to make the player among club's 20 highest paid players for Super League.
However, meeting all of these requirements does not guarantee an RFL endorsement. The RFL can refuse to endorse a player if they believe the club is "artificially inflating the financial package" to meet requirement #3.
All told, the requirements are restrictive and seemed influenced by protectionism. Players who cannot meet all three requirements can still play in the UK for amateur clubs in National Conference League, such as Canadian Kyle Marvin on Rochdale Mayfield, if they can secure a work visa for another job. But the essential takeaway for those who care about growing rugby is clear: in order to provide their players with opportunities and pathways in the sport, national federations must ensure their national teams are regularly playing officially IRL sanctioned test matches.