AN American student who returned to Edinburgh University partly because she had the chance to play football at the highest women’s level in Scotland has been denied from doing so by Home Office visa regulations.

Krissy Williams, who is 28 and from Massachusetts, came to Edinburgh on a student exchange between January and May 2018.

She returned to the capital last September, having been told by SWPL1 club Spartans that she would be in their squad for the 2020 season.

That got under way on February 9, but Williams has still not played for the Edinburgh team, who are one of eight clubs in the top tier of Scottish women’s football. The defender has been barred from playing in the league, as well as the League Cup and Scottish Cup, because of updated Home Office Tier 4 visa regulations.

The National:

These effectively stop a student from outwith the European Union playing in a league which has even one professional player. Further, such a student is deemed to be a professional sportsperson, even when, like Williams, she is an amateur. Spartans do not pay their players.

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The Celtic and Rangers women’s teams did, however, both turned professional over the winter, while players at Hibernian are on part-time contracts. The 13-time Scottish champions Glasgow City have had professional and semi-professional players for even longer.

The Home Office regulations were updated almost twelve months ago, but the Scottish FA registrations department did not inform Scottish Women’s Football, or its member clubs, until late January this year. That left Debbi McCulloch, the Spartans head coach, with the unenviable task of informing the player, who had already been registered and signed for 2020, that it looked like all her work in pre-season training was going to count for nothing.

“Playing for Spartans was like a dream come true for me,” Williams said. “I knew that I wanted to come over here and play at the highest level I could. Having that taken away before it even started for me was really difficult.

“I came back to Edinburgh University to get my Masters in American History.

“In part I came because I wanted to play football here. Debbi has told me I’m still an important part of the team and she has been in my corner throughout this whole thing.

“We’re going to fight it and get more clarity from the football authorities. It’s horrible for me, and I think also for SWPL1. In women’s football you find a lot of players who combine getting degrees with playing either professionally or semi-professionally.”

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Two other American students in Scotland’s top league have also been barred from playing. They are Haley Kern and Anne Metz, who both expected to turn out for Forfar Farmington this year. Kern, an art student in Dundee, played last season without experiencing any problems.

The National:

The plight of the players has caught the attention of SNP MP Gavin Newlands, and he is to take the issue up with the Home Office this week. Newlands, who represents Paisley and Renfrewshire North, has served on the last two Immigration Bill committees.

“Needless to say, I and my party profoundly disagree with the UK Government’s needlessly hostile and entirely counterproductive approach on immigration policy,” he said.

“In this instance, international students who play in SWPL1 on a completely amateur basis are just the latest victims, intended or otherwise, by the Home Office.

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“The Home Office is to blame for this situation, when all that is required is a modicum of common sense.

“I’ll be working with colleagues to persuade them that they’ve got this wrong and hope that a practical and reasonable solution can be reached for all concerned.”