Immigration Issues For Chinese Professional Golfers

With more and more Chinese professional golfers qualifying for major U.S. golf tours, they are being confronted by issues and regulations which particularly impact Chinese nationals.


The Visa Reciprocity Tables of the U.S. Department of State outline visa costs, length of visa validity and acceptable number of entries for all different visa types for nationals of all countries. These can vary based on the Department’s desire to give reciprocal treatment to each country based on how it treats U.S. nationals on similar visas. For Chinese nationals, see the table at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/us-visas/Visa-Reciprocity-and-Civil-Documents-by-Country/China.html.


While other countries have varying limits on their U.S. visas, the rules are particularly strict for Chinese nationals. The primary “athlete” visa for professional golfers is the P-1 visa. For most foreign professional golfers, they receive a five-year P-1 visa valid for multiple entries for the duration of the five-year period. However, per the table in the link above, Chinese golfers only receive a three-month visa valid for only a single entry. This presents unique problems for these golfers although there are some other countries with varying periods of validity.


This means that the golfer must:


1. Use the visa to enter the U.S. within three months and be admitted for the full five-year period of admission on their P-1 visa petition Form I-797 Notice of Action; or

2. Go through the cumbersome process of scheduling a new visa appointment, dealing with the waiting time, and attending an interview at a U.S. consulate outside of the U.S. if they leave after their three-month visa has expired. While they can try to schedule an interview in a country other than China, acceptance of their application is discretionary at other U.S. consulates.


With more professional tour events being scheduled outside of the U.S., this imposes a burden on Chinese nationals with expired visas. While there is a special exception to automatically revalidate an expired visa upon entry to the U.S. for persons who have only been to Mexico or Canada for less than 30 days, this is very limited. See https://help.cbp.gov/s/article/Article-1218?language=en_US.


The memo in the link above says:


A person is eligible for automatic visa revalidation provided the following conditions are met:

  • The underlying authorization for the current status continues to be valid for the Form I-129 for non-immigrant workers and Form I-20 for students in F status.

  • The person's absence from the U.S. was 30 days or less.

  • The person did not visit any countries other than Mexico or Canada in that period. Travelers who are on a F visa or J visa status are allowed to visit adjacent islands to the U.S.(i.e., the Caribbean).

  • The person does not have a pending or rejected application for a new visa. Since it is not possible to renew a non-immigrant visa in the U.S., a person on a non-immigrant visa may travel to a nearby country to apply for a new visa.

  • The person is not a citizen of one of the countries designated by the U.S., as a state sponsor of terrorism.

While the State Department regulations allow professional athletes to enter the U.S. in B-1 visitor status with a visitor visa and compete for prize money, this is not a long-term solution. Chinese nationals are eligible for a ten-year multiple entry B-1/B-2 visitor visa, but a visitor is defined as one who maintains a residence abroad which he/she has no intention of abandoning. In practice this means that one who attempts to repeatedly enter the U.S. as a visitor and who spends the majority of his or her time in the U.S. can expect to be eventually questioned at the U.S. port of entry and told to get a P-1 visa. Additionally, B1, B2, and B1/B2 visas for Chinese Communist Party members, their spouses, and children under the age of 21 will be limited to a one-month, single entry visa.


What should a Chinese professional golfer do to deal with these restrictions? In order to navigate these rules and minimize hardships to the golfer and his/her spouse or children, I suggest the following:


1. Obtain P visas for the family and enter the U.S. within three months since they will be admitted for the full duration of their P-1 visa petition approval (up to five years);

2. Other than travel to Mexico or Canada, attempt to remain in the U.S. and avoid tournaments in other countries unless the golfer is willing to possibly be stranded for a period of time in the other country while waiting for a new visa appointment;

3. Do NOT leave the U.S. and reenter on a B-1 visitor visa if any family members are in the U.S. in P-4 dependent status as that status is contingent upon the principal golfer being in valid P-1 visa status and an entry by the golfer as a B-1 visitor will put the dependent P-4 family members out of status. THE GOAL SHOULD BE TO ALWAYS KEEP THE FAMILY MEMBERS IN THE SAME VISA STATUS ADMITTED FOR THE SAME PERIOD OF TIME. Otherwise, the golfer and his family will be continuously changing or extending status in the U.S. and incurring additional expenses and inconvenience.


An individual with no family members may be able to navigate continuous changes between B-1 visitor and P-1 athlete visa status, this creates complications relating to the continuous need to monitor the changing visa statuses, visa expiration dates and U.S. admission periods of validity.


*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. www.realclearcounsel.com

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