SPORTS IMMIGRATION: Working With the Athlete, Staff, Franchise, League, and a Minor’s Parent(s)

NYSBA Entertainment, Arts and Sports Law Journal

Spring 2015 | Vol. 26 | No. 1


Entertainment Immigration is a rather amorphous area of immigration that covers a wide range of industries, transactions, and clients; particular emphasis here should be placed on industries. While we have been covering the various non-immigrant visas (NIVs) and a particularly relevant immigrant visa (IV or “green card” option) of value to the musician, choreographer, artist, executive, and the like, it is imperative not to forget sports.

For those of you who have been patiently waiting for a discussion about sports, we will be concentrating on this for a bit of time. Fair warning, however—this article will be a general overview. An initial introduction with a few pointers will allow us to get our muscles warm and ready for the big leagues.

Sports Industries

While you might be questioning what “sports industries” entails, it is imperative to understand that sports encompass more than just baseball and basketball.

For the average American, of course, sports also include football, hockey, and children in pee-wee soccer, among others (though last I checked, there were very few six-year-olds scouted by the Woodhaven Soccer Club¹).

However, let us not forget the array of other sports, including tennis, rugby, boxing, horseracing, golf, polo, and, of course, those Olympic sports that include gymnastics, skiing, skating, and the like.

Tidbit 1: These are the industries in which most private practitioners will find their clientele. The reason being that in those sports that sit on the tip of the American tongue tend to be quite insular at the professional level (i.e., Major League Baseball) or rarely involve foreign born players in need of a visa (i.e., the National Football League).

While it may not be so likely for the private practitioner to encounter the professional Major Leaguer, he or she may very well encounter the player who is semiprofessional or in the minor leagues. Keep this in mind, as it will present its own unique set of circumstances that must be addressed, such as one’s verifiable date or place of birth.

Non-Immigrant Visa Options

If we have been chatting along about entertainment immigration, then you will recall the various hosts of alphabet soup we encountered. If you are new to the conversation, welcome! In either event, let us cover, ever so briefly, what the most frequently encountered non-immigrant visas (NIVs) are for the sports industry.

In alphabetical order, those NIVs are B, E, F (and OPT), H, L, O, and P. Those visas are formally known as follows:

  • B … B1/B2 – Business/Tourist;²
  • E … E1/E2 – Treaty Trader/Investor;³
  • F (and OPT) … Student visa (and Optional Practical Training);⁴
  • H … Specialty Occupations;⁵
  • L … L1A/B – Intracompany Transferee (Executive/Specialized Knowledge);⁶
  • O … O-1A/O-2 – Extraordinary Ability/Essential Support Staff;⁷ and
  • P … P-1A/P-3 – Internationally Recognized Athlete and Essential Support Personnel.⁸

We will delve into each properly after taking up the potential clients that the practitioner may encounter. This will allow us to take the visa framework and place each prospective visa-seeker into his or her, and in some instances, its, respective classification.

Potential Clients

Athletes are not the only individuals who seek to enter the U.S. for the purpose of engaging in competitive sport. Coaches, support staff, executives, teams, sometimes even corporations or franchises, and everyone’s favorite, parents, all frequently look to engage in or view competitions. As such, let us delineate each of those respective parties appropriately.

Athlete

Of course, the athlete is at the top of the list. Being the star, for many, of the sports immigration realm, the athlete is the most commonly encountered client of the immigration attorney. The purpose of his or her entrance into the U.S. can and will vary quite frequently depending upon his or her sport and the place in which he or she stands in that sport.

Support Staff

Most often, support staff will include someone who is imperative to the athlete’s ability to perform his or her craft.⁹ In many instances, this will be a translator for the foreign-born athlete. It may also be a unique trainer who has helped polish and hone the athlete’s abilities over the years and is particularly in tune with the athlete’s strengths and limitations.

Coach(es)

A coach is a unique individual within the sports world, in that he or she often possesses an array of formal education particularly necessary for this position. The coach may also prove to be a necessary support staff for an athlete, though this is admittedly less probable than other options.

Executive(s)/Manager(s)

In the event of a new team, franchise, or the expansion of one that has already been developed, an executive may need to enter the U.S. to develop the structure of the team. The businessperson may also possess specialized knowledge of the team’s operations that can only be exacted by him or her, opening up a handful of overlapping visa options with coaches and support staff.

Parent(s)

Though the parent does not always require a visa, there may, at times, be instances in which he, she, or they will be described as imperative to the athlete’s ability to perform, making the parent(s) closer to support staff.

This wraps up the immediate parties involved, but of course, we will review them in far more detail going forward. Now, however, a bit of a side note that will bring us to useful practice tip number two.

Full Disclosure: A Self-Confession

Now, as a bit of business we must take up, I believe in full disclosure to avoid any potential ambiguities, inconsistencies or misconceptions: I am not a member of any fantasy league; I don’t partake in brackets; and you are not likely to find me at the bar catching the game. You are also not likely to ever hear me refer to myself as a follower of any particular sport.

Tidbit 1: Agents are paid to adore their clients and get the best deal for him, her, or it. Immigration attorneys champion and cheer on their clients to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) to get their clients into the U.S. to partake in their talents. These are two very different tasks.

Tidbit 2: Immigration attorneys are not agents; they do not need to be engrossed in a respective sports industry as an agent would in order to do their job competently. To aspiring immigration attorneys, you are not sports agents. To those of you looking for an immigration attorney, he or she is not an agent.¹⁰ This may sound obvious enough, but there are plenty of immigration attorneys who seek the fame and glory of Entourage. Lofty promises, unattainable goals, and an overzealous representative will likely make it more difficult to get the foreign-born individual into the U.S. cleanly and swiftly, because DHS and USCIS are two organizations that value congeniality over emotion.

Conclusion

An important takeaway here is to keep in mind that there is an array of competitive sports that are not central to the American mind, but make up a large portion of sports immigration. With that, we conclude our initial foray into the area of Sports Immigration, but as you can tell, there is much more to discuss, and so I do hope you will stick around until next time.

Endnotes

  1. For those wondering, the Woodhaven Soccer Club is a club that “has been committed to providing youth soccer to the community for over 3 decades. […B]ased in South Queens and is a part of The Long Island Junior Soccer League & NY Club Soccer League.” It offers various programs and its “players start as young as 4 years old […],” http://woodhavensoccerclub.com/clubinfo/.
  2. Temporary Visitors for Business, http://www.uscis.gov/workingunited-states/temporary-visitors-business.
  3. E-1 Treaty Traders, http://www.uscis.gov/working-united-states/temporary-workers/e-1-treaty-traders; E-2 Treaty Investors, http://www.uscis.gov/working-united-states/temporary-workers/e-2-treaty-investors.
  4. Students and Exchange Visitors, https://www.uscis.gov/working-united-states/students-and-exchange-visitors.
  5. H-1B Specialty Occupations, DOD Cooperative Research and Development Project Workers, and Fashion Models, http://www.uscis.gov/working-united-states/temporary-workers/h-1b-specialty-occupations-dod-cooperative-research-and-development-project-workers-and-fashion-models.
  6. L-1A Intracompany Transferee Executive or Manager, http://www.uscis.gov/working-united-states/temporary-workers/l-1a-intracompany-transferee-executive-or-manager; L-1B Intracompany Transferee Specialized Knowledge, http://www.uscis.gov/working-united-states/temporary-workers/l-1b-intracompany-transferee-specialized-knowledge.
  7. O-1 Visa: Individuals with Extraordinary Ability or Achievement, http://www.uscis.gov/working-united-states/temporary-workers/o-1-individuals-extraordinary-ability-or-achievement/o-1-visa-individuals-extraordinary-ability-or-achievement.
  8. P-1A Internationally Recognized Athlete,  http://www.uscis.gov/working-united-states/temporary-workers/p-1a-internationally-recognized-athlete; P-3 Artist or Entertainer Coming to Be Part of a Culturally Unique Program, http://www.uscis.gov/working-united-states/temporary-workers/p-3-artist-or-entertainer-part-culturally-unique-program/p-3-artist-or-entertainer-coming-be-part-culturally-unique-program.
  9. Id.
  10. Understand here that I am speaking strictly about the immigration attorney acting as an immigration attorney. Plenty of practitioners handle various areas of law, and as we have seen time and again in entertainment immigration, there are numerous overlaps between the attorney procuring a visa and a career counselor. That being said, when one retains an immigration attorney, it is important to be sure that he or she is acting in that capacity and not trying to finagle his or her way into the realm of Scott Boras or Arn Tellem.

Article originally written in Entertainment, Arts and Sports Law Journal and is republished here with permission from NYSBA.

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