Entry for the Olympics

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With the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games just around the corner, UK government agencies have been working in tandem with national and international Olympic committees to ensure that the much-anticipated events will run as smoothly as possible. One vital task in these preparations has been to set out the rules and procedures which will facilitate entry to the UK for the many thousands of participants, workers and spectators involved in the Games.

Presented to parliament on 10 October, the new rules took effect on 31 October. While the new system is not perfect, and it remains to be seen how effectively it will be implemented, there appears to be at the very least a manageable framework within which to work.

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Spectators

Individuals seeking entry as spectators to the Games will be required to comply with the general visitor provision under the UK’s Immigration Rule. Accordingly, non-visa nationals may seek permission to enter the UK at port, while visitors from visa countries - a list of which may be found on the UK Border Agency (UKBA) website - must apply for and obtain prior immigration permission. Although the UKBA typically aims to process straightforward general visitor visas within 15 days, to accommodate the anticipated high volume of applications, processing of spectator visitor visas began on 1 January 2012. In most cases, permission will be valid for up to six months.

Participants, volunteers and employees

Athletes, coaches, officials, umpires, technical/support staff, accredited media and others associated with the Games are referred to as Olympic/Paralympic ‘Games family members’. This general description is comprised of two specific categories recently added to the Immigration Rules and includes ‘Olympic or Paralympic Games family member visitor’ and ‘Olympic or Paralympic Games family member child visitor’. Despite the name, ‘Games family members’ do not include the legal family members of Games participants, who must apply for entry to the UK separately as spectator visitors, as detailed above.

To minimise delays, dedicated Olympic lanes will be set up at Heathrow airport for ‘Games family members’. Spectators and non-accredited media, however, will be required to enter via the regular customs entry queues.

Accreditation

To participate, work or volunteer at the Games, Games family members must apply for an Olympic or Paralympic Identity & Accreditation Card. The process of accreditation is overseen by the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG). Those requiring accreditation will be notified by their employer, the National Olympic/Paralympic Committee, or the organisation they intend to volunteer for and asked to complete an accreditation form. The purpose of the identity and accreditation cards is to identify people and their roles at the Games and allow them appropriate access to necessary venues. In certain instances, covered in more detail below, these cards may also be used as visa waivers.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and International Paralympic Committee (IPC) have set out a number of accreditation categories and recognised responsible organisations - National Organising Committees (NCO) - to nominate individuals and inform the LOCOG. Once contacted, the LOCOG forwards the completed form, referred to above, and relevant information to the Home Office, which performs the necessary immigration, criminal record and security background checks and recommends whether an individual should be accredited. Based on this recommendation, the LOCOG will then decide on behalf of IOP/IPC whether to accredit and issue an Olympic Identity & Accreditation Card (OIAC) or Paralympic Identity and Accreditation Card (PIAC). Once the applicant is approved for accreditation, LOCOG should provide them with a signed letter of invitation.

It is worth mentioning that visa national Games family members who fall under the accreditation categories OCOG, S or X (including, but not limited to, interpreters, security and entourage of guests), and who will not be working while attending the Games, must apply for a visitor visa. Additionally, those visa nationals and non-visa nationals falling under the same accreditation categories, but who plan to work in the UK, must apply under the relevant points-based system category.

Media

As noted, accredited media should apply as an Olympic/Paralympic Games family member. Non-accredited media and journalist, broadcaster or crew members from outside the European Economic Area must apply to work in the UK as a representative of an overseas media organisation (such as a newspaper, news agency or broadcaster). Processing for these visas began on 1 January 2012.

Timing and cost

How and when Games family members seek entry to the UK will impact on how they may apply for permission.

  • Before 30 March 2012, OIACs and PIACs will not serve as visa waivers. Therefore, LOCOG-approved Games family members will be required to apply for a visa as either an ‘Olympic or Paralympic Games family member visitor’ and ‘Olympic or Paralympic Games family member child visitor’.
  • From 30 March to 8 November, most LOCOG-approved Games family members (except those OIACs or PIACs displaying the categories OCOG, S or X) will be permitted to use their cards as visa waivers.
  • From 30 March to 8 May, Games family members may visit as ‘Olympic or Paralympic Games family member visitors’ or ‘Olympic or Paralympic Games family member child visitors’ for up to six months.
  • From 9 May onwards, Games family members may visit as ‘Olympic or Paralympic Games family member ­visitors’ or ‘Olympic or Paralympic Games family member child visitors’ only until 8 November.
  • From 13 August to 8 November, Olympic Games family members who entered using their OIAC as a visa waiver must show evidence that they obtained prior permission to enter or stay in the UK between 30 March and 12 August.
  • From 10 September to 8 November, Paralympic Games family members who used PIACs as visa waivers must show evidence that they obtained prior permission to enter or stay in the UK between 30 March and 9 September.
  • On 8 November, all ‘Olympic or Paralympic Games family member visitors’ and ‘Olympic or Paralympic Games family member child visitors’ in the UK should depart.
  • On 9 November, ‘Olympic or Paralympic Games family member visitors’ or ‘Olympic or Paralympic Games family member child visitors’ permissions expire.

Documentation

Applicants who must apply for either an ‘Olympic or Paralympic Games family member visitor’ or ‘Olympic or Paralympic Games family member child visitor’ visa will need to complete the application form online or by printing out and completing form VAF1A (depending on their country of origin).

Applicants for either the ‘Olympic or Paralympic Games family member visitor’ or ‘Olympic or Paralympic Games family member child visitor’ visas must also provide the following ­documentation:

  • original signed LOCOG letter of ­invitation confirming eligibility;
  • biometrics - those Games family members who would normally require a visa to enter the UK must submit their biometric data. This may be ­provided either before entering or at UK border;
  • original valid passport or travel ­document;
  • original passport photograph;
  • relevant fee of £76;
  • if applying from a country the applicant is not resident in, evidence of the immigration permission to be there; and
  • evidence of funds.

The UKBA also suggests that the ­following documentation may assist applications:

  • evidence of marital status;
  • hotel and flight confirmations;
  • evidence of employment, self-employment, studies or means of ­support;
  • evidence of total monthly income (after tax); and
  • evidence of association with activity to be undertaken while at the Games.

As the Games are fast approaching, and with the enormous number of spectators, participants and support staff who will all soon be seeking entry to the UK, it is advisable that those who will require visas should apply as soon as possible.

  • The Law Society is holding a Sports Law 2012 conference on 15 March chaired by Howard Stupp of the International Olympic Committee. The event will provide an opportunity for participants in sports law to put their questions about disciplinary procedures, eligibility and other logistical issues direct to the committee. See the brochure.

Laura Devine, Laura Devine Solicitors

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