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 The disconnect meant his visa was rejected and the ESTA was revoked as a result.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.

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