Three Bridges Cricket Club's overseas player has been here since April and still has not played a game - this is why

Three Bridges Cricket Club overseas player Will O’Donnell has been here since April and still has not played a game his Visa still has not been approved.

It has been seven weeks since the Sussex Cricket League started and Bridges have been without their New Zealander and now Crawley MP Henry Smith has escalated his enquiries to the Home Secretary’s Private Parliamentary Secretary to get it expedited.

The 24-year-old, who played for Bridges last season and proved a huge success, applied for an International Sportspersons Visa on April 11 in Auckland and had his Biometric appointment there on April 19.

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The application was made after fulfilling all the required criteria to qualify for this type of Visa, including a Governing Body Endorsement from the ECB.

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At the Biometric appointment in Auckland, O’Donnell was advised that the 10 day Fast Track service was suspended due to the high volume of work at UK Visas and Immigration caused by the Ukrainian situation and that the wait would be up to six weeks.

He had a personal engagement in Holland so travelled over for that and then onto the UK where he has remained since.

Steve Brown, from Three Bridges Cricket Club, said: “Despite several attempts at chasing up his application direct with UKVI the standard response is that his application is being processed and no time scale can be given.

"Based on advice given by Will’s agent we contacted Henry Smith MP to assist. Apparently in other cases elsewhere the local MP has managed to expedite applications so this was a very real way of getting this moving. His office said they would send in a chaser but had no power to demand anything as Henry is not attached to the Home Office.”

Mr Smith told the Crawley Observer: “I raised Will’s case with the Home Office when I was first approached in May, after several follow-ups I’ve now escalated it to the Home Secretary’s Private Parliamentary Secretary.”

It has been a hugely frustrating time for Three Bridges and Will. Brown told us: “What has been hugely frustrating is the “pot luck” approach in granting Visas by the UKVI.

"As Will’s agent has numerous clients we have been made aware of applications made in March or April still waiting whilst others made in May are already granted. Some of these guys have been relatively fortunate and others not. To give an example Will’s Auckland teammate, Ben Lister, applied for his Visa a week or two later than him and his was approved three or four weeks ago and he has been playing for Horsham. I have seen other cases approved within three or four weeks whilst others continue to be sitting in some sort of black hole.”

Will O'Donnell

And Brown says it is having a real effect on the all-rounder. “The impact on Will cannot be underestimated. He is a Professional Sportsman and this is his living. We had agreed a four month contract and he has already lost over a third of that denying him much needed earnings.“As a club we have suffered on the pitch as almost all of our opponents have their overseas professional in situ, but there is also the wider impact of the input Will could be giving to the dozens of colts we have that he currently can’t help until such time as his Visa is approved.

"We know we are not alone and there are others in the same boat as Will, and us, country wide. The ECB are aware and have tried to move this along generally but to have no way of knowing when his Visa is likely to be approved, and no avenue to get a direct answer, the frustration mounts daily.”

Bridges played their seventh league game of the season on Saturday, where they drew with a struggling Eastbourne side. They currently sit seventh in the Premier Division. Horsham, who have their New Zealander Lister playing, are currently third.

Brown added: “It’s just crazy, especially when we paid out around £700 to the ECB for a Sponsors License to be able to contract a Professional Player / Coach, although not their fault, but even worse for Will who has paid out over 800 NZD for his Visa and currently unable to earn a penny.”

Will O'Donnell batting for Bridges last season

The Crawley Observer has approached the Home Office for a comment.