On December 19th, Major League Baseball, the Major League Players Association and the Cuban Baseball Federation (FCB) reached an accord that would put an end to the dangerous and illegal trafficking of Cuban players to the U.S. by international criminal organizations. For over 50 years there has been an economic embargo on Cuba which was eased significantly by President Obama in 2014 via executive actions that opened the door for this agreement which took over two years to negotiate.
Prior to this agreement, Cuban players who wanted to play in the U.S. would have to defect and pay large sums of money to criminal organizations such as drug cartels to smuggle them out of the country so they could either apply for political asylum in the U.S. and obtain residency or obtain residency in a third country and apply for a U.S. work visa at a U.S. consulate in that country. Players that have made this journey have testified to the extremely dangerous travel conditions and the extorsion and threats to their families they experienced if the smugglers did not believe they had been paid all of the agreed fee. Furthermore, they could never go back to Cuba to see their families.
This new agreement mirrors similar agreements with Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball, the Korea Baseball Organization and the Chinese Professional Baseball League. Under the agreement:
The FCB must release all players under contract with the FCB who are at least 25 years old and who have six or more years of playing experience. The FCB may also agree to release players under 25.
Once released by the FCB, the player is free to negotiate and sign with any MLB team without leaving Cuba.
Released players would be scouted and signed by MLB clubs in Cuba and apply for the standard P-1 athlete visa.
A player can decide whether he wants a registered MLB Players Association agent to negotiate for him or someone else that he wants to negotiate on his behalf.
Any disputes between MLB and the FCB would be resolved through neutral arbitration.
The initial agreement is valid through October 31, 2021.
For players 25 years old or above, the release fee paid to the FCB would be between 15% and 20% of the total guaranteed value of the MLB contract and for players under 25, their release fee would be 25% of the signing bonus for minor league contracts.
While this agreement is historic, it should be noted that President Trump has said in the past that he wanted to roll back the Obama-era executive actions that allowed for it to take place. This writer thinks this is doubtful as the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control gave MLB its blessings in a letter saying such an agreement would be valid.
*Steven M. Ladik is past President of the American Immigration Lawyers Association and represents numerous professional golfers on the LPGA Tour and PGA TOUR as well as athletes across the broad spectrum of sports. He also serves as the outside Immigration Counsel to the National Football League. He is a Partner at Seltzer Chadwick Soefje & Ladik, PLLC. www.realclearcounsel.com