Marine Warrant Officer Jeremy Piasecki, while stationed in Afghanistan, had an idea for how to help that country’s people. He could start a water polo team. The 31 year-old reservist from southern California had spent years both playing and coaching the sport, but he knew that starting a team in a country with fewer than two dozen swimming pools would be a challenge. In 2008, while working with the Afghan army on a military base near the capital city of Kabul, he discovered an abandoned swimming pool. Once he cleaned and filled it, he held tryouts, and more than seventy people showed up.
It took much time and effort to build a team. Few people had much swimming experience, and the sport was unknown in Afghanistan. He eventually recruited and trained several dozen players, most of them from the Afghan army. When he returned home, he took to fundraising. He gained enough support and funding to bring the team to the United States to train in California. The team had already faced multiple obstacles, including several combat fatalities and one player killed by stepping on a landmine while guarding the pool during practice. Once they had the ability to train with seasoned coaches, they found themselves blocked by the United States government.
Team members applied for visas through the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, seeking to come to the U.S. on Christmas day 2011 and train for three months. Immigration officials at the embassy denied their applications based on a concern that the players would stay past the expiration date and remain in the U.S. illegally.
Visas for people who wish to come to the United States for a specific purpose and then return home are known as “nonimmigrant” visas. Athletes with “international recognition” can apply, individually or as a team, for P-1 visas. Media reports do not indicate which specific type of nonimmigrant visa the team requested. They may have applied for the more common B-1 visa, issued to people temporarily coming to the United States for business purposes. Immigration officials have a considerable amount of discretion in deciding nonimmigrant visa applications. A key consideration they must make is whether they believe the applicant will return home once the visa expires. The law says that a person who does not intend to return should not receive a visa. The process for making this decision is quite unclear.
One player did receive a visa to train in the U.S. The lone female player will train with players from women’s college teams and will study coaching. Her intention is to return to Afghanistan and form the country’s first women’s water polo team.
The team announced that it will bring several American and German coaches to Afghanistan to train the players, recruit new players, and help build a new team in Kabul. The coaches plan on going there from May through July. Team leaders hope that they can demonstrate the players’ commitment to building a team for Afghanistan, and that American immigration officials will see this and approve visas for them to train in the U.S. in the future.
The New Jersey immigration lawyers at Samuel C. Berger, P.C. help immigrants seeking visas to come to, or remain in, the United States. To schedule a consultation with one of our skilled attorneys today, contact us online or at (212) 380-8117.
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Federal Officials Launch Immigration Scam Education Campaign, New York & New Jersey Immigration Lawyer Blog, December 22, 2011
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Photo credit: Water polo 1 by arkosfl on stock.xchng.