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There are record numbers of martial artists such as brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Karate, Combat Sambo, and Wrestling athletes who are seeking to come to the United States. With the rise of mixed sports competitions such as mixed martial arts, combat jujitsu, pankration, and others, there are more opportunities for international combat sports athletes to compete and coach in the United States. This is especially true with the sport of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu which is rapidly increasing in popularity and the number of available competitions such as the IBJJF, Mundials, and Pan American competitions.
Unfortunately, there is an increasing trend for martial artists and combat sports athletes to have their visas denied when applying for the B visitor visas. There are many possible reasons to have a visitor visas denied such as the petitioner not having enough ties back to the the their home country, previous immigration violations, and overstaying on a previous visa. In addition, for athletes such as brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioners, mixed martial artists, boxers, and other combat sports athletes that compete for prize money, there can be denials for getting compensated without proper work authorization. This is pretty easy for immigration officers to find out for sports that are regulated by a state commission such as boxing, mixed martial arts, and professional wrestling. State athletic commissions who regulate these competitions typically post how much each athlete was paid on public forum. USCIS can easily find this information out from the records of the athletic commissions and look and deny the visa.
When coming to the United States on a B visitor visa, the athlete is not permitted to do the following:
receive payment as a referee or official for any tournaments or competitions
receive payments for private lessons
teach or coach at a gym full-time or even as a seminar
compete for monetary or in-kind compensation
Are you receiving payments as a referee for a local jiu-jitsu tournament? Not allowed. Are you teaching seminars at a local jiu-jitsu gym for a seminar fee? Not allowed. Are you giving private training sessions at a local jiu-jitsu gym for cash? Just say NO!
To avoid having this issue happen in the future. It is imperative that these athletes seek a P visa which comes with work authorization for a specific purpose such as competing and coaching.
The P-1 visa can be broadly applied to various classes of entertainers, including fighters, however the actual application can be quite nuanced. The application must include carefully prepared explanations concerning the terms of the employment opportunity, complete with supporting documents in order to be approved. Our attorneys are savvy to include specific information related to the athlete's industry which can include employment contracts, bout agreements, obtaining the appropriate consultation letters, and circumstances that are unique to combat sports.
Below are the steps for obtaining the P visa:
#1 SPONSOR OR AGENT IN THE U.S.
The P-1 Visa must begin with a Petitioner in the United States that wishes to engage the athlete for either a bout, training, or for management purposes. The petitioner must be one of the following:
1. A U.S. Employer (Promotion or Training Center) - Requires written contract with dates and wages
2. U.S. Sponsoring Organization (A Major Sports League) - Requires written contract with dates and wages
3. U.S. Agent/Manager (A U.S. Person representing a fighter) - Requires written contract with dates, training schedule, possible performance opportunities, payment arrangements, hours of working, and fringe benefits
4. Foreign Employer through a U.S. Agent - Same as 3. U.S. Agent/Manager but the foreign employer uses a U.S. person as a conduit.
Note Regarding Support Staff - P-1S: Essential support personnel cannot be included on the P-1 petition filed for principal athletes or members of an athletic team. A separate petition needs to be filed for such qualified essential support personnel seeking a P-1 Essential Support Personnel visa classification
#2 INTERNATIONAL RECOGNITION
The individual athlete must be an internationally recognized athlete based on his or her own reputation and achievements as an individual. He or she must demonstrate a degree of skill and recognition substantially above that ordinarily encountered so that the achievement is renowned, leading or well known in more than one country. For a fighter, this includes official competition record, amateur record, any titles won, media coverage, expert opinions from industry insiders.
#3 WRITTEN CONSULTATION FOR LABOR UNION
With few exceptions, it is mandatory to submit a written consultation from an appropriate labor organization along with the P-1 Petition. A written consultation must come from an authorized official labor organization that represents the athlete's peers in the United States. The written consultation must either be an advisory opinion that the athlete's participation does not affect the local workforce or that the organization has no objection to the the approval of the P-1 visa petition. It is on the burden of the petitioner to establish that an appropriate labor organization does not exist, if that is the case.
#4 PROOF OF FOREIGN RESIDENCE
Each athlete and support personnel must submit evidence that shows they have a permanent residence in a foreign country and no intention of abandoning that residence. Supporting evidence includes home ownership or rental agreements, utility and other bills, ownership of valuable assets, dependents, and other ties to the foreign country.
#5 ADMISSION INTO THE USA
If the athlete is already in the U.S. on a visa, for example a B-1 Visitor visa, then the petitioner may remain in the U.S. while the P petition is being adjudicated. If the athlete is not in the U.S. while the P petition is being adjudicated, then the application will be processed by an Embassy or Consulate outside the U.S. The athlete will have to retrieve the visa from the Embassy or Consulate before coming to the U.S.
#6 P-4 FOR SPOUSES AND CHILDREN
The P-4 Visa is available to the spouse and unmarried children under 21 of both P-1 Athletes and P-1S Support Personnel. The P-4 Visa is usually limited to the same period of time as the corresponding P-1 or P-1S application. The P-4 Support Personnel are not permitted to accept payment but may attend school or college.
#5 EXTENSIONS AND CHANGES
The original P-1 petition can be authorized for up to 5 years as long as the business or activity that supports the petition continues. After 5 years, the petition may be extended for up to an additional 5 years for Athletes. The P-1S petition for supporting personnel can be authorized for up to 1 year. After one year, the visa may be extended in increments of one year for up to 10 years. After, completing an extension period for the visa, the athlete or support personnel must return home and obtain the next visa at the consular office.
The P-1 athlete is only supposed to work for the entity that sponsored the P-1 visa petition. In certain circumstances such as a bout, the P-1 athlete may not have to obtain an additional P-1. It is best to consult with an attorney before making decision to compete for another organization while sponsored for a P-1 with another entity such as a manager. If, P-1 makes a substantial change in employment, it is necessary to file a new petition for the new employment arrangement.
Note: In the case of professional P-1 athletes who are traded from one organization to another, employment authorization for the player will automatically continue for a period of 30 days after acquisition by the new organization, within which time the new organization is expected to file a new P-1 petition. If the new petition is not filed within 30 days, employment authorization will cease. If the new petition is filed within 30 days, the professional athlete shall be deemed to be in valid P-1 status, and employment shall continue to be authorized, until the petition is adjudicated. If the new petition is denied, employment authorization will cease.
#6 GOVERNMENT FEES AND APPLICATION TIMING
The typical P-1 Visa application takes about a month to be processed and costs $460 in Government fees.
There is premium processing available for the P-1 Visa. Premium processing costs an additional $1225 and requires the USCIS to make a decision within 15 business days.