Thursday, May 3, 2012

Mid-Level Professional Runners Stuck Between the B and P Visas

ESPN recently provided a nice summary of the difficulties that mid-level marathon runners face in entering the United States to compete in races.

"Visa procedures for foreign artists and performers have grown increasingly labyrinthine, expensive and arbitrary, arts presenters and immigration lawyers say, making the system a serious impediment to cultural exchanges with the rest of the world."
While virtually any visa applicant can face difficulties in gaining admittance to the United States, elite runners have a relatively easier time in entering U.S. races than do mid-level runners.  Elite runners can qualify under the P-1 or O-1 visa, which require a certain level of acclaim in the field.  Unfortunately, mid-level runner may find it difficult to qualify under these visas, and must therefore rely on the B-1 visa.

This presents a difficult Catch-22 situation as the B-1 visa disallows any kind of compensation or remuneration other than prize money.  Here is the relevant portion of B-1 visa regulations as listed in the Department of State's Foreign Affairs Manual, which controls visa decisions by consular officers.

9 FAM 41.31 N9.4  Professional Athletes

a.  Professional athletes, such as golfers and auto racers, who receive no salary or payment other than prize money for his or her participation in a tournament or sporting event.

Not every competitor can win prize money, so funding trips to the United States simply on that basis becomes a difficult proposition for mid-level foreign athletes, many of who are of limited financial means.

"It's a tough ask for someone who lives in a village where there's no electricity to pay their own way," Turnbull says. "But if I want to help these athletes out as a promoter, I can't do it. There can't be an exchange of finances."

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