As I sat watching Alexandr Dolgopolov take out the Australian Open Champion – Stanislas Wawrinka at the Miami (SONY) Open, I was impressed with what this remarkable Ukrainian had achieved, just two weeks after defeating Rafael Nadal at the Indian Wells Tennis Tournament. Dolgopolov recently put out a video with the help of fellow tennis stars Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and others making a plea for peace in Ukraine. It was a moving video from the Country’s top ranked and best known tennis player.
Tennis is truly a global sport with players coming from far and wide. Each year, our Office processes P-1 Visas for Tennis Professionals coming to play various Tennis tournaments in the U.S. Like a flock of birds, the tennis contingent will sweep into play two to four tournaments in the U.S. and then rush to Europe in time for hard court tournaments and the French Open…a few months later and right after Wimbledon, they will again return to the U.S. and compete in qualifying tournaments leading up to the U.S. Open – the last Grand Slam event for the year. Following this, most players (some may linger), find local tournaments, or go back to their home countries to play Davis Cup Tennis. So, timing is key…in achieving success with the P-1 Visa.
When a client approaches us with a request for a P-1 Visa, they have already identified a Coach, or sponsor in the U.S. willing to act as their Agent. This Agent is sometimes a local club with other tennis pros who are competing at various levels of the game. We immediately follow up with a request for a schedule of events, so we can plan the P-1 Visa filing way ahead of the first scheduled tournament. It is obvious, the player will need time prior to the tournament to enter the U.S. to practice and get acclimatized to local conditions.
In the case of Tennis players, the P-1 classification may be accorded to a person who performs as an athlete at “at an internationally recognized level of performance.” Further, the individual must be coming to the United States to participate in an individual event, competition or performance in which the player is internationally recognized with a high level of achievement; evidenced by a degree of skill and recognition substantially above that ordinarily encountered so that the “achievement is renowned, leading or well known in more than one country”. Most players will satisfy these requirements if they have participated in international tournaments along with other highly qualified players. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (Service) will need at least two of the following to show that a player is ‘internationally recognized’:
1. Evidence the beneficiary has participated to a substantial extent in a prior season with a major United States sports league
2. Evidence the beneficiary has participated in international competition with an international team
3. Written statement from an official of the governing body of the sport which details how the beneficiary is internationally recognized
4. Written statement from a member of the sports media or recognized expert in the sport which detail how the beneficiary is internationally recognized.
5. Evidence of the beneficiary’s or team’s ranking in the sport has international ranking.
6. Evidence that the beneficiary has received a significant honor or award.
In addition the Service requires “a tendered contract with a major United States sports league or team, or a tendered contract in an individual sport commensurate with international recognition in that sport, if such contracts are normally executed in the sport.” Tennis is not a Team Sport and such contracts may not be readily available. We work with the Player and the Agent to provide the Service with acceptable alternatives.
Finally, the trickiest part is getting a supporting letter from the governing body of the Sport in the United States – the USTA. This is required to satisfy obtaining a consultation from an appropriate “labor organization”. Although the USTA is not a “Labor Organization”, the Service insists on seeing a letter to approve the petition.
Every step of the way requires careful planning. While it is important to present a successful petition, care should be taken to fulfill the immigration requirements without doing anything that would jeopardize the ability of the player to enter and compete.