Consider the following hypothetical drawn from a real world example of a professional hockey player.

Devon was a Canadian professional hockey player in the NHL. He entered the NHL as a first round draft pick in the 2000 Entry Draft. Devon spent 10 seasons playing in the NHL where he developed as a defensive role player known for his powerful on ice hits intended to interrupt the rhythm of the opposing teams. Devon played in Boston, Los Angeles and eventually settled in Philadelphia. In Philadelphia he was chosen by his teammates to wear the “A” as the alternate captain due to his leadership on the team. Devon was a well liked player in the locker room and lived in New Jersey with his wife and three children whom followed Devon from Canada to the United States. Devon owned a home, his adolescent children were thriving in school and his wife was actively engaged in the community. Devon was on a P-1 visa to play hockey. His family members were on a P-4 visa as the dependents of Devon. It was in October 2010 that Devon suffered a surprising and career ending concussion during a game. Devon was forced into retirement and was considering an offer to be an assistant coach for an AHL franchise. His family had established their lives in the United States and wanted to remain. Because Devon’s visa was tied to his employment as a professional hockey player, Devon had to return home to Canada with his family.

The above hypothetical highlights the need to consider the “career” immigration needs of your foreign professional players once they are signed. Generally, foreign professional athletes in the United States are issued a visa known as P-1A (spouses and children are issued a derivative visa known as P-4). A P-1A is valid for up to 10 years and as of 2009 can be extended past these 10 years if the active playing career is extended past 10 years. A P-1A visa can be transferred from one team to another in the event of a player trade and the team acquiring the traded player has up to 30 days to file the transfer paperwork while keeping the player on the ice. The problem with the P-1A is that after a playing career is over, the visa is effectively voided. Often players and their families have established themselves and wish to remain the United States and abrupt notice that a visa will be voided requiring them to leave the United States can be devastating.

During a player’s active career, submitting a Permanent Residence application (“Green Card” ) should be considered to mitigate the potential need for your valued players to have to return home at the end of their careers. An approved Green Card would permit the player and his family to live and work in the United States on a permanent basis after having established their lives in the United States over the course of the player’s career. A Green Card category exists for players whom are able to establish Extraordinary Ability in Athletics which can be proven by examining a player’s body of professional work. For a player like Devon, his qualification for a Green Card would most likely have been determined by reviewing his body of work as a defensive role player on the teams he played for. Alternatively, a player can establish Extraordinary Ability proving the receipt of a one-time significant achievement (an Olympic Gold Medal for example). While the P visa keeps a player active on the ice for the sponsoring team, the initiation of a Green Card can permit a now retired player and his family to remain in the United States upon the conclusion of the playing career. A Green Card can also permit the player to accept employment in the United States after the conclusion of the playing career.

To the extent a Green Card had been applied for while Devon was playing, Devon and his family could have remained in the United States after his retirement and Devon could have accepted the position as a Coach with the AHL franchise. In today’s competitive professional sports market where player retention is equally competitive, paying attention to the long term needs of your foreign players and their families may provide a strategic advantage to those teams cognizant of the post career challenges faced by those foreign players who do not address their future goals in advance of player retirement.