Friday, August 18, 2017

Athletes Like Ray Beltran Literally Fight to Stay in the US

A recent story in Yahoo Sports highlights the visa issues facing Mexican-born lightweight boxer Ray Beltran, who is currently in the United States on P-1 status.  He has had a distinguished career thus far, enjoying a record of  33-7-1 with 21 knockouts.  Beltran was the primary sparring partner for Manny Pacquiao and fought for the world title two times.  He has been ranked No. 2 by the WBC, WBO and IBF and No. 6 by the IBF.
Beltran now has a P1 visa which, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, an athlete qualifies for a P1 if he or she is “coming to the United States to participate in individual event, competition or performance in which you are internationally recognized with a high level of achievement; evidenced by a degree of skill and recognition substantially above that ordinarily encountered so that the achievement is renowned, leading or well known in more than one country.”

The article states that Beltran and his immigration attorney are very confident that his record is strong enough to warrant continued stay in P-1 status. 

However, all athletes retire, and those on P-1 status must look towards longer term options to remain in the US. The next logical step in the immigration journey of a P-1 athlete is typically the first preference EB-1 visa, which includes an allocation for those showing extraodinary ability in athletics.  The standards for acquiring an EB-1 immigrant visa are higher than for P-1 nonimmigrant visas.  The upshot is that a P-1 athlete facing only moderate success will face challenges in staying in the United States permanently.

The heightened standard for EB-1 immigrant visas requires P-1 athletes to maintain a high level of success.  As a result, athletes like Beltran feel continued pressure to keep winning.  Losing can be painful for any athlete, but that pain is compounded in cases where a string of defeats can threaten the loss of immigration status. 

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Immigration Problems for Oklahoma City Thunder Enes Kanter

Enes Kanter, the 25 year old center for the NBA's Oklahoma City Thunder, has been in hot water with Turkish authorities as of late.  Kanter was born in Switzerland and until recently, held a Turkish passport.

Kanter has been a thorn in the side of the Turkish regime for some time now, largely because of his outspoken criticism of Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.  Kanter has also been a vocal supporter of Turkish opposition leader Fethullah Gulen, who lives in the United States and is in exile for allegedly plotting the overthrow of strongman Erdogan last year.  Apparently, Turkey had enough of Kanter's activism:
According to AFP, a Turkish judge on Friday issued an arrest warrant for Kanter. The 25-year-old is accused of having “membership” in “an armed terrorist organization.”  

Though Kanter is currently in the United States, and the US has an extradition agreement with Turkey, he has little fear of being extradited because American policy generally disfavors the extradition of political dissidents.

The arrest warrant comes on the heels of another recent Turkish provocation: the revocation of Kanter's passport while he was en route from Romania to the United States.  Had Kanter been working for the Thunder on an O-1 or P-1 visa (which is the norm for most foreign basketball players in the NBA), he would have been denied entry to the US and would have faced possible jail time in Turkey for his political activities.

Fortunately for Kanter, he possesses a green card, which allows for reentry to the United States even without a passport.  As a result, he was able to return to the USA despite Turkey's cancellation of his passport.  Turkey's attempt to thwart his travel plans failed.

From the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) website:
Lawful Permanent Residents of the U.S. must present a Permanent Resident Card ("Green Card", Form I-551), a Reentry Permit (if gone for more than 1 year), or a Returning Resident Visa (if gone for 2 years or more) to reenter the United States.
U.S. LPRs do not need a passport to enter the United States as per 8 CFR 211.1(a), however, they may need a passport to enter another country. Please contact the embassy of the foreign country you will be traveling to for their requirements. 
This is one (of few) areas where CBP regulations are actually more lax than one might expect.  
Since he was born in Switzerland, Kanter can presumably procure a passport from Switzerland, and continue, unabated, to be a thorn in the side of the Erdogan regime.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Atlanta Hawks Suspend PG Dennis Schroder for Forgetting Visa

The Atlanta Hawks rely heavily on their talented point guard, Dennis Schroder.  So it is somewhat understandable that the organization was upset with the German point guard for failing to report to work on time.

Schroder took a trip back to his native Germany during the NBA All Star Break.  Unfortunately, he left the passport containing his US visa (likely a P-1 or O-1 visa) in Georgia.  As a result, he was not able to return to the US as planned.

League officials attempted to procure an expedited visa appointment at a US consulate in Germany to allow Schroder to procure a new visa in time, but ultimately Schroder was unable to get the visa in time for his scheduled return.  As a result, the Hawks suspended him for one game.

“I have to accept it,” Schröder added. “Coach said something and I listened to him. I’ll focus on the next game. I am disappointed that it happened.”

The incident is a telling reminder that immigration troubles can plague all employees, including multi-millionaire star athletes.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

P-1A Visa Adjudications Remain Inconsistent for Professional Video Gamers

As we noted in January 2014, the USCIS has begun to recognize professional video game players as athletes eligible for P-1A visas, which are reserved for "internationally recognized athletes."  Even so, there has been a lack of consistency in the adjudication of such visas for professional gamers, probably because of the relative novelty of professional gaming and the usage of the P-1 category for such athletes.

The difficulties faced by professional gamers in acquiring P-1 visas was brought into relief last October when Sweden's William "Leffen" Hjelte was denied the visa despite his renown as a top-level gamer.  While Hjelte ultimately procured a P-1 visa in this year, the gaming industry has been vocal in demanding more consistent adjudications of P-1 visas, even starting a petition on Whitehouse.gov that has amassed over 117,677 signatures. The petition states that a wider range of "eSports should be considered 'legitimate' sports in order to let players come and compete in the United States."

While one might expect the availability of P-1 visas for gamers to increase over time as government officials become more acclimatized to this unique form of professional sports, such an increase is far from obvious given recent political developments.  Many immigration lawyers fear that the recent election of Donald Trump as President will harken an increasing anti-immigrant sentiment among adjudicators in the country's immigration agencies, including within the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of State.  If that proves to be the case, one can expect a higher level of scrutiny being applied to already stringent requirements for P-1 athletes.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

EB-5 Visa Used to Fund Sports Stadium

Under the EB-5 Immigrant Investor program, entrepreneurs (and their spouses and unmarried children under 21) are eligible to apply for a green card if they make a $1 million investment in a commercial enterprise in the United States.  If the investment is in a trouble economic area, the investment threshold is reduced to $500,000.

The investment can occur in a single business, or it can be pooled with others as part of a USCIS-sanctioned "Regional Center" program.  The majority of EB-5 visas are issued in connection with a Regional Center investment.

Traditionally EB-5 Regional Centers comprised of large-scale infrastructure projects, often in rural or low-income urban areas.  Such projects have included shopping malls, ski resorts, and condo complexes.   The largest EB-5 regional center, for a Vermont ski resort, has recently been taken to task by the Securities and Exchange Commission for fraud.

 For the first time ever, a sports stadium will be built using the EB-5 Regional Center mechanism:
Mr. da Silva, the majority owner of Orlando City of Major League Soccer, is asking investors from Brazil, China and elsewhere to pay $500,000 each for a stake in the stadium he is building near downtown Orlando. In return, the foreign investors receive annual dividends, two season tickets and something even more valuable: a green card that allows them, their spouses and sometimes even their children to live and work in the United States.
...
 Mr. da Silva, though, is building a $156 million stadium, not a high-rise building or a shopping mall, and he is marketing to foreigners not because lending is tight, but because lawmakers in Florida would not provide subsidies for the stadium in the Parramore neighborhood of Orlando.
Traditionally sports stadiums have been financed through public-private partnerships that often fail to produce the promised revenue for government funders.  It remains to be seen whether Orlando City's EB-5 investors will enjoy any profits from their investments.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

NFL Player Faces Delay Over Failure to File P-1A Transfer Petition

While sports like soccer (football), basketball and baseball are replete with foreign players, American football features relatively few foreign national players. However, the emerging trend is for increased foreign participation in American football. The case of New Zealander Paul Lasike presents an interesting example of this trend. Lasike was recruited from New Zealand as a future All-American rugby player at Brigham Young Univeristy in Utah.  His athletic prowess caught the attention of BYU football coaches, who convinced him to switch to football for his remaining 3 years of college. Lasike subsequently enjoyed a successful career in college football and was named to the College Sports Madness All-Independent Third Team his senior year.

After his graduation, the Arizona Cardinals initially picked up Lasike as a free agent full-back, and employed him on the basis of a P-1A visa. This season, he has been signed by the Chicago Bears as a member of the practice squad. Unfortunately, the trade has run into visa trouble:

It’s one thing to have a transaction held up by the league office.

But for the Bears, the State Department is keeping them from filling their practice squad at the moment.

Apparently, the Bears may not have been aware of the rule that an NFL team acquiring a player from another team typically needs to file a new P-1A petition with USCIS to reflect the player transfer. The rule is that a player in P-1A visa status can play for a new team based on the existing P-1A for up to 30 days. During that time, the new team must file a P-1A transfer. While the transfer petition is pending, the player can play for the new team for up to 240 days beyond the earlier work authorization.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Manny Pacquiao-Floyd Mayweather Undercard Roiled by Visa Processing Delay


The May 2, 2015 fight between Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather has captured the imagination of the general public for a number of reasons.  Those reasons include the contrast in personality and background for two of the best boxers in recent memory.

While much of the focus will be on this main event, the behind-the-scene wranglings for the fight's undercard reveal the negative impact that visa processing can have on sports events.

Managers for the fight had reportedly been attempting to bring four top-level Filipino boxers to serve as the undercard (presumably to play up the U.S. v. Philippines angle).  The four fighters are IBF World Youth super flyweight champion Aston Palicte, WBO Asia Pacific bantamweight champion Marlon Tapales, super flyweight Drian “Gintong Kamao” Francisco, and IBF Asia Pacific super lightweight champion Adonis Cabalquinto. 

The four boxers were reported to have an interview at the US Embassy in Manila on Tuesday [April 21, 2015], with the hopes of getting the visa in time for the fight.

At this time, the undercard has been finalized and none of the Filipino fighters are listed, which raises the strong likelihood that visa processing delays have precluded their inclusion in the marquee event.  Boxingscene.com reports:
[T]hey did not get their P1 visas on time even though the visa process was expedited by our lawyers, so we took them off the card as the safety of the fighters are a major concern and there was not enough time for them to get acclimatized and travel.  
Despite the availability of premium processing and the ostensibly relaxed standard for P1 visa athletes, this incident highlights the difficulties faced by athletes and promoters in navigating U.S. immigration law.