In 2014, opening day rosters in the National Basketball Association listed 101 players born outside the United States, Major League Baseball boasted 224 players from countries such as Japan, Korea, Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Japan, Cuba, and Mexico, not to mention the many players from other countries in the National Hockey League, Major League Soccer, and the developmental leagues of all of these major sports. As the world of sports continues to become more global, immigration has become even more essential to our professional sports leagues.
The five most common misunderstandings foreign professional athletes have about their immigration status include:
1) Careers are Short and So Are Grounds for Permanent Residence : Players who no longer compete at the highest level in their sports will be unable to obtain permanent residence based upon their abilities. Players no longer playing in their sport will be denied permanent residence for failure to demonstrate the continued ability in their area of extraordinary ability. Similarly, players often are only one bad season or injury away from losing their ability to remain in the U.S. on temporary visas. Therefore, they should consider filing for permanent residence early in their careers.
2) Family Matters, but Working is Another Matter: Families of foreign professional athletes cannot work in the United States unless they have their own basis for work authorization. By filing for permanent residence, however, the families of players can start businesses, seek employment, and have greater travel flexibility. Also, players who eventually become citizens can immediately petition to have parents join them in the United States.
3) Income Flexibility is Not Player’s Lot: Immigrant athletes generally can work only for a single employer. Other active business interests fall outside their authorized status. However, by obtaining permanent residence, the player is free to pursue business and employment opportunities like any other U.S. citizen.
4) Traveling with Ease May Have to Wait : U.S. immigration works on a series of complicated visas categories that often require several filings with the USCIS and DOS Visa limitations cause confusion and delay. Permanent residence, however, frees players from the burden of those filings and allows them to enter the United States faster and with less inspection by border officers.
5) Higher Standard of Behavior Is Expected: Immigration is a civil, rather than criminal, issue. Minor criminal issues or immigration violations can result in the denial of a visa or permanent residence for a player or family member. Immigrants are held to a higher standard. Issues that might result in a monetary fine for a U.S. citizen or permanent resident could mean a permanent bar or removal from the United States for an immigrant.
Working with experience immigration counsel can help players reduce the risks.