Friday, December 26, 2014

Normalization of Relations with Cuba Could Facilitate Immigration of Cuban Players

President Obama recently announced a complete overhaul of the country's long-standing, virtual sequester of Cuba.  This has been unfortunate for many reasons, including the fact that many of the world's top boxers, volleyball players and baseball players hail from the island nation.  For instance, defecting Cuban baseball players Yoenis Cespedes, Yasiel Puig, Jose Abreu and Rusney Castillo have all signed on for successful multi-million dollar contracts with MLB teams.

Unfortunately, because of travel restrictions on Cuban players, many who find their way to the U.S. are forced to utilize unscrupulous and often dangerous human smugglers to facilitate their transfer.
The uncomfortable truth is that many Cuban baseball players who defect to the U.S. must endure extreme danger in order to do so and often rely on human trafficking rings to smuggle them off the island.  As part of President Obama's announced policy change, the U.S. will reportedly work with the Cuban government on human trafficking issues. In the short term this could make it more difficult for Cuban players to defect.
Over the long-term, however, increasing numbers of Cuban players could make their way to compete for U.S. teams.  That would require elimination of trade restrictions between the two countries.  The United States has previously relaxed trade restrictions with Iran on a one-time basis, to allow FIBA Asia star Hamed Haddadi to play for the Memphis Grizzlies.  Presumably the recent shift in American foreign policy towards Cuba could facilitate similar relaxations with respect to Cuban players.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Yankee Masahiro Tanaka's Visa Processing Facilitated by U.S. Senator

Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka has been in the limelight of late.  The star right-hander was just recently signed by the New York Yankees for a mammoth seven-year, $155 million contract.  At only 25 years old, he is already expected to be one of the best pitchers in the game of baseball.

The Yankees filed a petition for Tanaka's P-1 with the USCIS Vermont Service Center, and wanted faster-than-normal approval of his case so that the pitcher could make it to Spring Training on time. One interesting tidbit relating to his P-1 processing appears in an article from the NY Daily News.
[The Yankees] called New York Senator Chuck Schumer to see if Sen. Schumer could help make sure the paperwork was done properly.

"My office works tirelessly to help constituents every single day, but it's not often you get a call from a constituent like the New York Yankees," Schumer said. "You see, the Yankees called me a couple of days ago to say they were worried about Masahiro Tanaka getting to spring training on time due to the length of time it can take for foreign players to get a visa.

"Foreign baseball players apply for something called a P-visa and the whole process can take up to a month; but with pitchers and catchers reporting on February 14th, it was very possible he wasn't going to make it. So I made sure we had someone go to the mailroom at USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services), pull his application and get it processed quickly - something I have done in the past for the Mets as well, when they had a similar issue with Jose Reyes."

While they can always pass special legislation granting particular aliens some immigration benefit, members of Congress cannot require that the USCIS or Department of State approve a particular applicant's case.  They can, however, inveigle these administrative agencies to expedite certain cases that are under process.

For the normal person, expedites are typically only considered for humanitarian or pressing medical reasons.  Apparently, expedites can also be done to assist a professional baseball player make it to spring training on time.

One wonders if such privileged treatment of celebrities calls into question the Constitution's 5th amendment guarantee of due process for all under federal law.

Friday, January 10, 2014

P-1 Visa Can Be Issued to Professional Gamers

The five year P-1A visa is reserved for "internationally recognized athletes."  One traditionally considers "athlete" to mean those engaged in physical competitions or sporting events.  However, the definition of that terms seems to be expanding to encompass professional video game players.

The USCIS has recently issued a P-1 visa to a professional "World of Warcraft" gamer.  Another such visa was granted earlier to a Canadian player of the "League of Legends" game.

Many will be surprised to learn that professional gaming has an intense following, particularly overseas.

The move could bring more professional gamers to the U.S. and grow an already booming industry. This October, the final match for the game League of Legends almost packed the Staples Center, home of the Los Angeles Lakers, with more than 13,000 people. 
 . . . .
At live matches, Kim would play against his opponent inside a soundproof glass booth. Thousands of spectators watch these tournaments in person, along with professional commentators narrating for millions of online viewers.

Prize money can be very lucarative as well, as the combined prize money for the three StarCraft II world championship series next year is set at $1.6 million.

In our earlier post we questioned whether the League of Legends P-1 was a mere anomaly, or a marked shift in USCIS's interpretation of the visa.  With this latest development, it seems clear that the agency now considers gaming to qualify as an athletic event for P visa purposes.