IMMIGRATION ISSUES FOR GOLFERS AND MULTIPLE TOURS
Updated: Oct 4, 2022
This article is intended to advise both professional golfers and golf tours about the immigration issues that they can expect to confront when golfers seek to compete in the U.S. It is not intended as an endorsement or discussion of the merits of any tour.
Most golfers seeking to compete in the U.S. for multiple seasons obtain a P-1 “athlete” visa for “internationally recognized athletes” who are coming to compete in distinguished events “that require the participation of internationally recognized athletes.” Normally this visa can be issued for a validity period of 5 years if there is an itinerary sufficiently detailed enough to justify that period of validity.
Any athlete filing for a visa needs to be aware of the following issues they may face:
1. Distinguished Reputation of the Tour: USCIS (Immigration) normally only approves cases for golfers competing on the highest level in their sport, including developmental tours owned and operated by the highest-level tour. Long established tours normally do not have an issue with this criterion but new leagues or tours in any sport can expect to be questioned on this issue.
2. International Recognition of the Athlete: This is normally not an issue if the athlete has been competing on the highest-level tour in the sport. However, recent college graduates with no professional experience seeking to compete in a new league or tour could face questions on this issue.
3. Itinerary and Period of Visa Validity: While no sport issues 5 year schedules, if the schedule repeats in substantially the same format, individual athletes can normally show this fact and be granted a 5 year P-1 visa. If the schedule has few U.S. events or no history of a repeating schedule, USCIS may only approve the P-1 visa for a validity period necessary to compete in the current season’s events.
4. P-1 Visa Tied to Itinerary Submitted with Petition: A P-1 visa is not a generalized work permit allowing an athlete to compete anywhere. It is issued to allow the athlete to compete only on the specific itinerary for the tour that was submitted with the P-1 petition. Competing on any other tour without a visa tied to that tour’s itinerary would be a violation of status rendering the athlete and his/her family out of legal immigration status. ADDITIONALLY, ANY USE OF A P-1 VISA WHICH IS TIED TO A SPECIFIC TOUR TO COMPETE IN OTHER TOURS OR EVENTS COULD BE RENDERED “VISA FRAUD” COMMITTED AT THE TIME THE ATHLETE SEEKS ADMISSION TO THE U.S. SINCE THERE IS NO INTENT TO COMPETE IN THE EVENTS SUBMITTED WITH THE ORIGINAL P-1 PETITION.
5. Sponsoring Organizations as Petitioners: If a “sponsoring organization” was the petitioner for the P-1 visa application, then the athlete can only compete in events of that tour as submitted in the itinerary with the P-1 petition.
6. Agents as Petitioners: USCIS allows U.S. agents to serve as a P-1 visa “petitioner” and in that case, the agent can provide an itinerary listing multiple events or tours on which the athlete will compete, provided all tours or events have distinguished reputations.
USE OF THE B-1 VISITOR VISA
The regulations of the Department of State allow “professional athletes, such as golfers and auto racers, who receive no salary or payment other than prize money, for their participation in a tournament or sporting event” to compete in the U.S. This can normally be used for any sporting events provided there are no payments made to the athlete other than prize money. It does not allow for any guaranteed payments or income that cannot be construed as prize money.
USE OF THE O-1 VISA FOR ATHLETES OF EXTRAORDINARY ABILITY
The O-1 visa is another alternative for elite athletes to compete in multiple events or tours; however, it has a very high standard such that most professionals would not normally qualify. This is because “extraordinary ability means a level of expertise indicating that the person is one of the small percentage who have arisen to the very top of the field of endeavor.”
If one can meet that standard, a U.S. agent could serve as the petitioner for the submission of the O-1 petition to allow the athlete to compete in events listed on the itinerary submitted with the visa petition. If the schedule repeats in substantially the same format, individual athletes can normally show this fact and be granted a 3 year O-1 visa. If the schedule has few U.S. events or no history of a repeating schedule, USCIS may only approve the O-1 visa for a validity period necessary to compete in the current season’s events.
Mr. Ladik is a Managing Member of the Ladik Law Firm, PLLC. He is past President of the American Immigration Lawyers Association and represents numerous professional athletes in a variety of sports. He also serves as the outside Immigration Counsel to the National Football League. He is Board Certified in Immigration and Nationality Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization (1989- present).