Sports immigration is a unique industry because foreign coaches, managers, support staff and many other people all require visas to participate. There are a few different visa types available, each suited for the different situations and positions.
The criteria for obtaining a U.S. visa has gotten significantly more difficult and sports immigration is feeling the heat. Successful sports immigration attorneys have had to rise to the challenge and become even better.
O1 Visa: Extraordinary Ability .
P1 Visa: Entertainers and Internationally Recognized Exceptional Athletes.
H2B Visa: may be used for a wide variety of seasonal industries.
H1B Visa: can be used for a coach, administrator, or management level person in some circumstances.
There are two visas that can be used if the athlete wants to remain in the United States permanently.
EB1: Exceptional Ability Green Card
EB2: Employment-Based Exceptional Ability Permanent Residence (Second Preference).
EB3: Skilled, Professional, or Other Workers – visa/Green Card for
EB5: Immigrant Investor Visa
Athletes may also wish to enter the U.S. for a single competition or tournament in which the B1 or B2 Visa can be used.
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Dave: Hi, welcome to OnlineVisas.com: The Immigration Show. I'm your host Dave Kelso, and today we're going to talk about sports visas. Visas for the sport industry. With me here today is my co-host and OnlineVisas.com CEO Jon Velie. Jon, how are you sir?
Jon: Hi David Kelso, how are you doing today?
Dave: I'm very happy to talk with you about an area of immigration law that you specialize in. It's kind of glamorous, it's certainly very cool. 25, 26 years of being an Immigration Attorney?
Dave: I understand that you have represented clients from around 50 different sports.
Jon: That's right.
Dave: Some of the majors, and some emerging sports, now are there any names that we can drop around in the major sporting world?
Jon: Sure. Lauri Markkanen is one of the big stars of the Chicago Bulls, he was finished national team player, All-American at Arizona, doing very well there. Alex Len just started playing with the Hawks, he was with the Suns for years, that's in the NBA. Ziggy Ansah in the NFL. We represent the Arizona Diamondbacks in Major League Baseball, and got the opportunity to work with the MVP of the World Series, Pablo Sandoval, with the Giants, and his brother to help create an L1 Visa to do a non-profit that helped kids in his home country of Venezuela, which is obviously under fire, and do some really neat things there.
Jon: Sheldon Souray in the NHL, I think he had the at 106 mile per hour, the fastest slap shot ever. Yeah-
Dave: No way.
Jon: Obviously, I'm a big sports fan, and was a rugby player for five years. And matter of fact, we did the first green card for a rugby player.
Dave: That's one of those emerging sports we were just talking about.
Jon: It is. Rugby now has Major League Rugby.
Jon: And before that, they had Pro Rugby, those are the first two professional sports leagues. So Major League Rugby is now the professional sport in America for the sport, and there's a number of different teams there. We help them with their visas, and we help the national team with their visas as well; lots of different coaches and players come in from around the world.
Dave: That must be very exciting to see young athletes from around the world be able to come here and compete and pursue a dream. I mean you're really helping people-
Jon: Oh for sure.
Dave: Follow dreams.
Jon: Well, and America is really the home base of a lot of sports, right? We have the major sports, which we have the top professional leagues in the Big Four. But it's also where a lot of Olympians work out, and we also have the world's best ski resorts, and lots of great tennis and golf facilities. You know our universities are full of foreign tennis players, and foreign golfers, that will come in and then go into the WTA and ATP, from there and on through Q school into the golf world there.
Jon: Wake boarders find America home, surfers find America home, runners. I mean this is really the most sports centric country in the world. Other than soccer, we pretty much lead most of the world in almost all of the sports, so this is ... and it's not just the great place to workout and compete, it's really because of entertainment. Where a lot of the broadcasting for that happens, more money is made in sports here than others places. So it's really great to be part of that. I'm in association called the Sports Lawyers Association where I speak every year at their annual conference.
Jon: That puts me in contact with great agents, the leagues, the teams, and we love to talk about this. So it's very unique to be in sports immigration, but the entire industry needs our help and we're glad to provide it.
Dave: Well we're talking with Jon Velie, CEO of OnlineVisas.com, and we're talking about visas for the sport industry. What are some of the visas associated with sports and coaches? And I'm assuming it's more than just players?
Jon: Right, and front office folks, managers, all sorts of different folks, people need visas. Anybody from another country needs a visa to participate in the United States. So the O1, that's the top of the food chain, is for extraordinary ability. These are people that have risen to the top of their profession, there's a number of different criteria that meet that, but essentially what I look at is what are you really good at? And why have you been recognized for it? So have you won international awards or national awards? Are you elite membership of an association like a national team, for example?
Dave: Can you shoot a hockey puck 106 miles an hour?
Jon: Yeah, exactly. And what's really happening that is really interesting is micro statistics. So with players going into their free agency, when Alex went to the Hawks from the Suns, with Alex Len, they were looking at things like all sorts of tiny, little statistics. Now you might remember the baseball movie, Moneyball-
Dave: Moneyball, I do, great movie-
Jon: Yeah, and so in Moneyball, they went from the eye test of what makes a great baseball player to all sorts of statistical analysis. Well agents are smart, and they figure out this is why certain players are the best at what they do. We love to see those micro statistics and show how our people have risen to the top of the profession, that's the O1 Visa.
Jon: The P1 Visa is for the internationally recognized exceptional athlete. Okay, why I'm saying athlete is the O1 can be for players, or coaches. The P1 we use it for players and coaches for a long time, but immigration is just not allowing anything besides competition right now. We think they're restrictive on that, we think they're too restrictive. It's a very tough world right now to get somebody that's doing anything outside of competing, unless it's ancillary and related, such as endorsements.
Jon: So you can be a huckster for Gatorade or Nike shoes, but you can't be coaching on the side, and that's been a point of contention. That is kind of where it's at right now - the P1, athletes only. The H2B is a seasonal visa, it's for all sorts of different industries. It can be a person digging ditches or picking fruit, but it can also be a Minor League Baseball player, or a hockey player-
Dave: They have seasons too.
Jon: They absolutely do. And it can be any different type of athlete, coach, entertainer, anything related to it. The play-by-play guy can come in for a season under the H2B. The H1B can be for a coach at a university, or another place, or some sort of administrator, or management level person in some circumstances. There has been a lot of fight on H1Bs and what makes a specialty occupation, coaches have come under fire. But coaches that do really specific things can get through that. Like a strength and conditioning coach can have a physiology or kinesiology degree, something that could lean towards meeting the specialty occupation, but a general degree doesn't work.
Jon: Those are some of the factors of the temporary visas.
Dave: Those are the temporary visas, but what happens, and we're talking with Jon Velie, CEO of OnlineVisas.com here, what happens if an athlete wants to come here and stay here? What are some of the green card visas associated with this?
Jon: Well the EB1 is the Extraordinary Ability, it's like the O1 we talked about. It has a higher standard that has to be sustained, so it's not something you would use for the Rookie of the Year. You would want to have a couple of years being really top in your profession. The EB2, Exceptional Ability, is an interesting one because it doesn't specifically list athletics, it lists entertainment as one of the options for the EB2, Exceptional Ability, but there's been some litigation that has said that sports is entertainment-
Dave: Isn't it?
Jon: Well, it is, but I guess some of the emerging sports may have a tougher argument, right?
Dave: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jon: If it doesn't have big TV contracts, and they're not on television.
Jon: And now almost everybody is broadcast to some point. So I think you could make an argument on that, but it's a lower standard. It's more of the internationally recognized standard under the P, than the Extraordinary Ability under the O, and you can use that visa for that. There's also a Labor Certification Process, the EB2 and EB3, that's where you run ads in newspapers to determine if somebody is available. I don't think that's really for a player, but it could be for a coach, it could be for front office personnel, those sorts of things. The person that's doing the marketing for the company, or tickets sales.
Dave: The sports industry, not just the athletes.
Jon: Absolutely. There are all sorts of those things that teams and leagues need to do, and then there are the EB5s for investors. So if someone wants to buy professional sports franchise, they can get a green card, if they invest over a million dollars and I can't imagine most sports franchising wouldn't be much more than that. So those are some of the green cards, and temporary visas. We didn't mention the B Visa, you can actually come in to compete under a B Visa, and that's what a lot of athletes will do just for say a tennis tournament, or different type of competition.
Dave: Now even athletes, even the sports industry, I imagine, are having difficulties with visas and immigrations to this country in this day and age-
Jon: That's correct.
Dave: What are some of the serious issues that you're facing with sports visas?
Jon: Well, kind of all visas in general, the criteria has gotten harder. I mean that's just an easy way to look at it. It's forced immigration attorneys to have to be better at what we do. We write briefs for everything we put in. A lot of folks that try to do this might just put in a cover letter, leave it up to Immigration to interpret these things, we use expert opinions. So we've worked with some incredible experts.
Dave: Well, wait just a minute, so writing the brief is something that only Online Visas and Velie Law does?
Jon: We're not the only one that does it. We put a lot of effort into it, we're very proud of it, we make it look like a Sports Illustrated magazine. As a matter of fact, I did that because we had Ivan Ivankov who was the two time All Around World Champion, who had been recruited by Bart Connor and Nadia Comăneci, to come teach gymnastics in the United States, cover of Sports Illustrated painted gold, so he had the Sports Illustrated jinx. To be the All Around World Champion means that you did the best in numerous different activities, he was in four different sports in the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, didn't medal in any of them, the jinx was on.
Dave: But he qualified?
Jon: Well, he qualified and what the funny thing is I was looking at this big, great Sports Illustrated magazine cover and it dawned on me why don't we make our visas look like Sports Illustrated? So we have great athletes that take great pictures, and we do this for all of our visas, not just athletes and entertainers.
Jon: Well you want to present it in the best possible way, right?
Dave: Yes, you do.
Jon: So we put about a 25 to 30 page brief where we go over the analysis and we use experts to analyze it. We've had Serena Williams and Jon McEnroe, and incredible skiers, and athletes, and entertainers, Fran Fraschilla is a great basketball guy - it's great to talk to these experts and get their opinions and put that in writing. Just like if you're trying a case, we're putting experts on the stand, they're just doing it in writing, and that really gives you the best chance of success, that's our recipe.
Dave: Put some gravity behind it. Now, if I wanted to reach out to you, Jon Velie, CEO of OnlineVisas.com, for a strategy session, or if I want to be a part of the American dream, how do I find you?
Jon: Well OnlineVisas.com is a great way to find us, we're getting almost 2,000 people a day coming to our website, Dave. These podcasts have been very helpful on that, by the way, and the webinars and different sorts of videos that we're putting out on this has been helpful. You can call us at 405-310-4333, drop me an email personally, Jon, J-O-N, @VelieLaw.com, that's V-E-L-I-E-L-A-W.com-
Dave: There's a link right there.
Jon: Yeah, link on us, and of course we want all the subscribers we can have to our podcast.
Dave: Yes sir.
Jon: And videos on YouTube, and come, keep checking us out, we're loving this, and we'd love to have your questions and read them on the air maybe.
Dave: Yeah, please comment below.
Dave: You can tune in now, you can find us and subscribe on Simplecast, iTunes, Google Podcasts, or just by visiting OnlineVisas.com. Find us on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, OnlineVisas.com, links are below. Jon, thanks for your time today.
Jon: Thanks Dave. Take care.