Consider the dilemma of a newly drafted NHL hockey player from Canada. After signing his Standard Player Contract, obtaining his P visa, and loading up his gear and heading to the border with his long-time girlfriend to begin training camp, both are stopped at the border. The immigration officer questioned the girlfriend’s intention to travel to the United States to accompany the player just for the duration of the season. Entry denied and she is turned away.

What happened? The girlfriend in the above scenario was denied entry due to “immigrant intent.” The border officers made a determination that because she was not married to the player or otherwise in the possession of an independent student or work visa, the girlfriend most likely had the “intent” to remain in the United States, never to return to Canada. Seem implausible or irrational? This is a frequent real-life situation that can be disruptive to a professional organization concerned with the smooth transition of its players (and significant others).

In August 2011, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ revised Policy Memo appears to provide a possible solution to the above scenario. The policy memo stands for the proposition that border officials are now given discretion to grant B visa (tourist) entry to cohabiting partners or household members of nonimmigrant visa holders.

Cohabiting partners and household members are defined as “an alien who regularly resides in the same dwelling as the principal nonimmigrant and with whom the principal nonimmigrant maintains the type of relationship and care as one normally would expect between nuclear family members.”

While the ultimate approval of the visa is at the discretion of the reviewing officer, this policy change appears to provide a basis to permit the live-in girlfriends of professional foreign athletes to enter the United States to accompany the player for the duration of the season. Attorneys in the Collegiate and Professional Sports Practice Group have successfully advised the use of this new policy.