Overseas riders are falling foul of the UK’s immigration laws in the run-up to the Olympic Games, with one dressage rider stranded in France as she waits for a visa.
The Home Office created a new Olympic Games Visit Visa last summer that allows multiple visits of up to six months – and is valid until 8 November 2012 – so that athletes can train in the UK.
But a number of non-European riders already in the UK, some on other visas, have found the application process confusing.
And because they cannot apply for the visa from within the UK it is impinging on their training programmes.
Australian dressage rider Mary Hanna said: “I came over in May [to train with Kyra Kyrklund and Richard White] and have been in and out of the UK several times since to go to competitions.
“I didn’t apply for a visa, as initially I was only going to be there for three months but got on to the Australian elite squad [a six-person Olympic shortlist].
“I went home in September and as I came back through Heathrow they said they were not going to let me back into the UK.
“Finally, they let me in but a warning was put on my passport and I now have to apply for a visa.”
Mrs Hanna is now based in the south of France, with her groom, husband and two grand prix horses, while she applies – but it could take months.
“It’s very unwelcome. I’m trying to train – we had organised to rent a house and had rented cars. We just had to pack up and leave,” she said.
Australian eventer Wendy Shaeffer had also planned to base herself in the UK in the run up to 2012, but has decamped to Holland while she applies for a visa.
And an American dressage rider, who wants to remain anonymous while her visa application is ongoing, told H&H: “I have been in the UK for 148 days on a sports visitor visa and I do not know if I will be granted the Olympic visa.
“If not, I only have 32 days left on my visa which runs out in April. That would destroy my training programme.”
A Home Office spokesman said he could not comment on individual cases and that all riders wanting to train in the UK prior to the Games should apply for the Olympic Games Visit Visa.
Olympic organisers LOCOG also declined to comment, but it has been assisting riders experiencing difficulties.
This news story was first published in the current issue of Horse & Hound (27 October, 2011)