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State Department Issues P-1 Athlete Visas to Competitive Video Game Players

Global_Starcraft_2_League_season_1_final.jpgElectronic sports, or “eSports,” are growing exponentially in popularity in the U.S. and around the world. Thousands of people compete in tournaments of video games like Starcraft and Call of Duty, thousands watch the competitions in person, and millions more watch via the internet. With enormous events scheduled around the U.S., the Department of State (DOS) and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) are now allowing teams of gamers abroad to apply for P-1 visas. This type of visa, which is normally issued to professional athletes and sports teams, will allow competitors from abroad far greater ability to travel to the U.S. for events.

Gamers travel from all over the world to participate in gaming events in the U.S. According to the technology website gigaOM, 21,000 people attended a recent eSports event in Anaheim, California, and 3,000 gamers took part in a tournament in Las Vegas. Game development company Riot Games, which created the popular role playing game League of Legends, reportedly lobbied DOS and USCIS to allow gamers to apply for P-1 visas. The company wants to encourage international gamers to join U.S.-based teams for the upcoming League of Legends Season 3 World Championship (LCS), which will take place in Los Angeles this fall. Teams will compete for a $100,000 prize. About 8 million people watched last year’s LCS in person, on television in some countries, or online. The gaming blog Kotaku noted that the American League Championship Series baseball game held the same day had more than a million fewer viewers.

Federal immigration law provides the P-1A visa to athletes and athletic teams. 8 U.S.C. §§ 1101(a)(15)(P)(i)(a), 1184(c)(4)(A). To qualify, an athlete or team generally must perform “at an internationally recognized level of performance,” Id. at § 1184(c)(4)(A)(i)(I). A U.S. employer or agent petitions for the foreign athlete or team by filing a Form I-129, along with a “written consultation from an appropriate labor organization.” Supporting documentation should include descriptions of the athlete’s or team’s accomplishments, the extent of international recognition, and the suitability of the athlete or team for the event in which they will participate in the U.S.

For an individual athlete, a P-1A visa is valid for the length of time necessary to complete the sporting event up to a maximum of five years. The athlete may extend the visa for a maximum of an additional five years. A P-1A visa for an athletic team is valid for up to one year, renewable for up to one additional year. “Essential support personnel” may obtain a P-1A visa for up to one year, and may extend the visa in increments of up to five years for a total of no more than ten years.

The immigration attorneys at Samuel C. Berger, P.C. represent immigrants and prospective immigrants who live in, or wish to move to, New York and New Jersey. We help immigrants obtain visas and green cards through family or employment, and we help families and businesses petition on behalf of immigrant loved ones or employees. Contact us today online or at (212) 380-8117 to schedule a confidential consultation with a member of our legal team.

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H-1B Visa Cap for Fiscal Year 2014 Reached in Just Five Days, USCIS to Hold Lottery, New York & New Jersey Immigration Lawyer Blog, April 6, 2013
Controversy Surrounds the J-1 Exchange Visitor Visa “Summer Work Travel” Program, New York & New Jersey Immigration Lawyer Blog, July 5, 2012
USCIS Clarifies Meaning of “Culturally Unique” for Performing Artist Visas, New York & New Jersey Immigration Lawyer Blog, May 17, 2012
Photo credit: By User:Altostratus (Self made) [GFDL or CC-BY-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.