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The Growing Internationalization Of Women's Fast Pitch Softball

Under the looming return of women’s fast pitch softball to the 2020 Olympics in Japan, more and more national teams and their players are coming to the U.S. where they can gain the most experience against the best teams in the world by joining the U.S. National Pro Fastpitch (NPF) softball league. NPF provides elite female athletes an opportunity to pursue a professional career in fastpitch softball beyond their collegiate and amateur success. Some international teams and their players have already made this move and more are expected between now and 2020.

The five 2018 NPF affiliate teams consisted of the Aussie Spirit, Beijing Shougang Eagles, Chicago Bandits, Cleveland Comets and USSSA Florida Pride. The NPF will be entering its 16th season in 2019. It currently has teams from three continents and players representing the national teams of six countries. Some of the NPR’s players hail from the U.S., Australia, Canada and China among which are the most accomplished and talented athletes in the sport of women’s softball. On October 30, 2018 NPF, in conjunction with Softball Canada, announced the addition of the Canadian Wild to the league.

With this growing internationalization there will be a need for the international players to obtain the appropriate visas to allow them to compete for pay in the U.S. The P-1 visa is for an athlete or team to come to the U.S. to compete individually or as part of a team.

If a foreign individual is coming to play for a U.S. NPF team, she would obtain the P-1 visa designated for “individuals” which is governed by slightly different filing processes than those for teams. In this case, the individuals will be required to show they are internationally recognized players. In addition to submitting a contract, they must establish they are internationally recognized by submitting two of the following seven categories of evidence:

  • Evidence of having participated to a significant extent in a prior season with a major sports league.

  • Evidence of having participated in international competition with a national team.

  • Evidence of having participated to a significant extent in a prior season for a U.S. college or university.

  • A written statement from an official of the governing body of the sport detailing how the individual or team is internationally recognized.

  • A written statement from a member of the sports media or a recognized expert in the sport detailing how the individual or team is internationally recognized.

  • Evidence that the individual or team is ranked in the sport.

  • Evidence that the individual or team has received a significant honor or award in the sport.

You can see that for most players of this caliber, they should not have a problem establishing that they meet at least two of these criteria.

To obtain a P-1 visa, the player arranges for the team to sign the necessary paperwork and file the P-1 nonimmigrant visa petition with the USCIS with supporting evidence that confirms the player’s past accomplishments. Where the team has paid the USCIS a $1,410 “premium processing” fee, the P-1 visa petition is normally approved within 15 days. If the “premium processing” fee is not paid, it can take up to 3 months for the petition to be approved, although timing varies. Upon approval of the petition, the USCIS will issue a Notice of Action which the player can present to the U.S. Consulate with the nonimmigrant visa application, passport and photo. The visa is normally issued by the Consulate within 1-14 days. Once issued, the P-1 visa can be used for up to five years to enter the U.S. if the contract is good for that period. If not, it will be issued with a validity period equal to the contractual period, not to exceed five years.

In the case of a foreign team filing as a team for its members, the petition must be accompanied by evidence that the team as a unit has achieved international recognition in the sport. Each member of the team is then accorded P-1 classification based on the international reputation of the team. For the national teams we are discussing in conjunction with the NPF, there shouldn’t be any question that they are internationally recognized. The visa application process at the consulate would be the same as discussed above.

It will be interesting to watch for future movement of foreign national teams into the NPF as we approach 2020 because the NPF is the only place where Olympic caliber players can play against the best competition in the world to improve their game.

*Steven M. Ladik is past President of the American Immigration Lawyers Association and represents numerous professional golfers on the LPGA Tour and PGA TOUR. He also serves as the outside Immigration Counsel to the National Football League. He is a Partner at Seltzer Chadwick Soefje & Ladik, PLLC.

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