Friday, October 25, 2019

Cuban Soccer Player Competes in the U.S. On P-1 Athlete Visa

Other the last 6 decades, the sports pages have been littered with stories of Cuban athletes defecting to the United States to participate in sports in this country.  This is an often-dangerous route, and typically involves the athlete turning his/her back on loved ones in Cuba.  Soccer player Luis Paradela has decided to take a more conventional (for non-Cubans) route to playing in the United States: applying for a P-1 visa.

Paradela is believed to be the only Cuban athlete in 60 years to join a U.S. sports team on a visa.

The unusual nature of the visa application was probably not lost on immigration officials, who likely issued a cumbersome Request for Evidence (RFE) in Paradela's case, resulting in longer than the usual 15 day timeframe that applies for petition approval under premium processing (which is how most P-1 petitions are filed).

Typically, an athlete arriving from abroad must wait two or three weeks for visa approval. In Paradela’s case, it took about three months.  

By choosing to pursue a nonimmigrant visa, Paradela remains eligible to compete as part of the Cuban national soccer team.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Cross-Fit Athlete's Visa Troubles Highlight ESTA v. B-1 Dilemma

The CrossFit Games is a fitness competition in which athletes from around the world compete for the title of “Fittest on Earth”.  Alexander Anasagasti, Spain’s top CrossFit athlete, has been issued a B-1 visa after initially being refused.

The problem arose because last year, when Anasagasti travelled to the US to train, he applied for a tourist visa that was longer than the Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) form would allow him to stay. The disconnect meant his visa was rejected and the ESTA was revoked as a result. The sanction remained in place when he applied again this year.
As a Spanish citizen, Anasagasti was eligible to enter the United States through the fast-track ESTA program, which is an automated system that generally allows most eligible applicants to enter the country.  ESTA is the screening system through which foreign nationals can enter the United States under the Visa Waiver program.  Visa Waiver is available to nationals from certain generally-affluent countries, and allows entry as a tourist without applying for a tourist visa.

In contrast, the B (tourst) visa is one of the most difficult visas to procure.  One drawback of ESTA is that it only allows entry for up to 90 days at a time.  For this reason Anasagasti chose to apply for a tourist visa.  Unfortunately, his tourist visa was denied, which also led to the denial of his ESTA authorization (per the norm).  Luckily for Anasagasti, he posted about his plight and was successful when he reapplied for a tourist visa, thereby allowing him to compete in the CrossFit Games.  This episode shows that when entry using ESTA is possible and appropriate, it is often preferred to applying for a tourist visa.

Monday, November 26, 2018

USCIS Now Accepting Copies of Negative O Visa Consultations Directly from Labor Unions

The O-1 visa is set aside for individuals with extraordinary ability in science, education, business, athletics, or the arts, and individuals with extraordinary achievement in the motion picture or television industry.  One filing requirement for O-1 cases is that the petitioner must submit an advisory opinion from a labor union in the field in which the O-1 nonimmigrant will practice.  For instance, a professional basketball player filing an O-1 must first obtain an advisory opinion from the National Basketball Players Association, a union advocating for professional basketball players.

While obtaining a negative opinion from a labor union is not an automatic bar to acquiring O-1 status, such an opinion might make a particular filing more challenging.

An O-1 petitioner will procure an opinion directly from the concerned union, and then submit it to USCIS as part of the O-1 filing.  USCIS is now slightly amending that process to address ostensible fraud in the industry:

Director L. Francis Cissna recently met with several labor unions to discuss concerns they had with the consultation process for O visa petitions, in particular that some advisory opinions may be falsified by petitioners and submitted to USCIS as no-objections or favorable consultations, when in fact these were negative. The labor unions will now be able to send a copy of a negative consultation letter to USCIS so that it can be compared to the consultation letter submitted to USCIS by the petitioner.

This latest move should not have any negative impact on legitimate filings where documents have not been doctored.  The change is in direct response to the arrest of an immigration attorney for fabricating dozens of O-1 non-objection letters from labor unions.

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 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.