The decision on whether Robbie Rogers will be allowed to sign for Leeds United hinges on a work permit that is notoriously difficult to obtain for players outside of Europe.

Since The Whites don’t find themselves in this position very often, few Leeds United fans seem to understand why his application is in doubt so we thought we’d explain the process.

Automatically Eligible

Work permits are required in the UK in order to ensure that the quality of employees working within the country is of the highest standard. Whether you’re a financial expert or an English teacher, the UK Border Control sets criteria which determines eligibility.

For football, this criteria is as follows;

  • The player has represented his own country at international level.
  • The country is ranked above 70 in the FIFA rankings.
  • The player has featured in over 75% of the countries competitive matches over the past two years – this basically means major tournaments and qualifiers.

This fixed criteria ensures players like Lionel Messi or Ronaldinho can sign for any club they please without any difficulty, but it also protects English footballers by ensuring there are places available in our leagues for homegrown talent. Without these restrictions in place, it is not difficult to imagine a Rushden & Diamonds team made up entirely of South American’s.

The Stumbling Block For Rogers

Rogers has played 18 times for the United States (ranked #34 at time of publication) since making his début at the Olympics in 2008 – It’s worth noting at this point that the Olympics are not recognised by FIFA as a competitive tournament, primarily because of the age restrictions placed on players.

The problem Rogers has is that America plays an awful lot of international games (17 last year alone!) due to the additional tournaments they feature in, such as the CONCACAF Gold Cup. Whilst 18 would almost certainly constitute 75% of matches for the English national side, it falls some way short of that for the American national side.

Glimmer Of Hope 

Since Rogers doesn’t meet the outlined criteria, his hopes rest on the outcome of an independent hearing. This is basically a fail-safe measure that was put in place to ensure the Lionel Messi’s of this world can miss a few international games through injury or loss of form, and still sign a trillion pound deal with Manchester City.

The problem is, these panels are notoriously hard to convince. Leeds United must feel they have a solid case to argue else they wouldn’t have wasted their time on Rogers in the first place, but generally speaking, the outcome is usually negative.

There are no loopholes to exploit, no favouritism offered, even the top Premier League clubs have been left frustrated by these independent hearings in the past.

The panel has no connection to football whatsoever so won’t be swayed by personal allegiances. Their role is to protect the British job market and decide whether an individual is of a high enough class in his/her field that the United Kingdom would benefit from them working here.

Likely Outcome

Past precedent suggests both Leeds United and Robbie Rogers will be disappointed by the outcome. But maybe they know something we don’t? By taking him on trial and offering him a contract, The Whites certainly seem confident.

UPDATE: Grella, Somma and Nunez

There seems to be a lot of people predicting a successful outcome based upon the eligibility of non-European players we’ve signed previously. Unfortunately, Robbie Rogers case is in no way similar to that of Mike Grella, Davide Somma or Ramon Nunez. All three of these players qualified to work in the UK automatically, without any need for appeal.

Mike Grella and Davide Somma qualified due to dual-nationality. Both players hold Italian passports so are automatically entitled to work within the UK under EU law. Ramon Nunez meanwhile qualified through the criteria outlined above – Honduras rank #53 in the world.