USCIS has issued a new policy guidance clarifying eligibility requirements for internationally recognized athletes (P-1A nonimmigrants). Effective immediately, the policy applies to P-1A petitions filed on or after March 26, 2021.
The policy explains some of the statutory definitions. For instance, a “major United States sports league” means one that has a distinguished reputation, commensurate with an internationally recognized level of performance, and a “major United States sports team” is one that participates in such a league.
A P-1A petition can be submitted for an “internationally recognized” individual or team to allow entrance into the United States to participate in an athletic competition. The competition must have a “distinguished reputation” and requires participation of an athlete or team to perform “at an internationally recognized level.”
Under the policy, the following are considerations for determining whether competitions qualify:
- The level of viewership, attendance, revenue, and major media coverage of the events;
- The extent of past participation by internationally recognized athletes or teams;
- The international ranking of athletes competing; or
- Documented merits requirements for participants.
The relevant statutory and regulatory provisions do not require an athlete or team to participate in a competition that is limited only to internationally recognized participants. It is sufficient to show the competition requires some level of participation by internationally recognized athletes to maintain its distinguished reputation in the sport.
That a competition is open to competitors at all skill levels can be a negative factor in the analysis. If the event includes differentiated categories of competition based on certain skill levels, however, the focus should be on the reputation and level of recognition of the specific category of competition in which the athlete or team seeks to participate. For instance, the Boston Marathon is open to many skill levels, but an individual who will be competing in the “elite category” is likely at the level required for a P-1A.
For a team submission, the petition must include evidence that the team as a unit is internationally recognized. If proved, each athlete will receive P-1A classification based on their membership on the team. In this circumstances, the individual may not perform services separate and apart from the team while in the United States. To do that, they must present evidence of international recognition based on their own reputation.
While these clarifications are useful, individuals planning to come to United States. to participate in competitions will still have to overcome COVID-19 travel restrictions if they have been in the UK, Ireland, the Schengen Zone, Brazil, South Africa, China, or Iran during the 14-day period prior to their planned admission to the United States. In May 2020, certain athletes were specifically exempted from these bans to allow planned competitions to continue; but in February 2021, that exemption was removed.