Football clubs will be barred from signing players and coaches from outside Europe unless they can speak English, under new rules unveiled by Immigration Minister Liam Byrne.
The Birmingham Hodge Hill MP announced businesses will have to prove they have advertised jobs in Britain for two weeks, giving local people a chance to apply, before they are allowed to recruit immigrants.
The measures are part of the latest stage in the Government's reform of the immigration system, which includes an Australian-style points system designed to allow only people with skills to live and work in the UK.
Business leaders last night claimed they were being forced to pay the cost of controlling immigration. The new rules mean they will have to demonstrate they have attempted to recruit British workers - or face fines of up to £10,000.
Football clubs will be allowed to recruit "elite sportspeople and coaches" from overseas without considering British alternatives, but foreign stars will be subject to the same language requirement.
Home Office rules state: "This will include an ability to understand and use familiar everyday expressions and very basic phrases, to introduce themselves and others and ask and answer questions about basic personal details."
Mr Byrne and Home Office officials have been in negotiations with the Premier League, and it had been thought an exception would be made for leading sports stars.
But Mr Byrne said yesterday: "Footballers are not exempt from language tests, there will be no special treatment, one set of rules of everyone. There will have to be a basic standard of English, not GCSE or A level but a basic command. We expect people who come to the UK to be part of British society and they will be more successful members of society if they can speak a bit of English."
Sources at the Premier League said they were confident ministers understood the benefits of having top foreign talent.
Outside of sport, firms will need to advertise positions in British job centres for a fortnight, or one week for posts paying more than £40,000, before they are allowed to recruit from outside the EU.
Foreign skilled workers will also be barred from seeking work, unless their profession is one where there is a staff shortage.
Mr Byrne has set up an advisory body of business leaders called the Migration Advisory Committee to identify "shortage occupations" which need foreign workers.
Everyone else will be barred from applying for a visa unless they have obtained a firm job offer.
They will then have to demonstrate they qualify for a minimum number of points in the new immigration system. Points will be awarded for things such as academic qualifications, or working in a profession where there is a labour shortage.
The new regulations apply to all skilled workers, defined as people with the equivalent of an A level or earning more than £24,000.
The Home Office has announced low skilled workers from outside the EU will be barred.
Businesses which break the rules face fines of up to £10,000 and a ban on foreign staff, which could prove fatal to many.
This year, more than 130 businesses have been fined for breaching immigration rules, compared with just 11 last year.
The changes received a lukewarm reaction from business leaders. David Caro, chair of the Birmingham branch of the Federation of Small Businesses, said: "The Government has at last grasped the need to get the balance between controlling immigration in a sensible way and ensuring Britain has the skilled workers it needs.
"If small businesses need to advertise in overseas job centres - because people cannot apply for a visa before receiving a job offer - it will be a nightmare."
John Lamb, of Birmingham Chamber of Commerce, said: "Once again, it seems to be the Government dumping the burden on business."