Recently, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has had to reconsider what their definition of an “athlete” is to allow for Esports gamers. This once taboo gray area is now coming out of the shadows. In the past, the idea that a professional gamer would fall into the same category as those who play baseball, basketball, or other sports was largely mocked and looked like a farce. The eSport industry however has gained popularity due to gaming streams which helped spur $905.6 million in revenues in 2018 worldwide.
Those professional video gamers who are eligible are now applying for a P1 Visa. In the past, the only way for gamers to enter the U.S. was to apply for the B-1/B-2 visa and they were not able to accept prize money. All of that has changed. Now gamers are coming to participate in various worldwide competitions with millions in prize money. These competitions are equivalent to a basketball player coming to play for the NBA. This new look at what an athlete is has allowed eligible gamers to come to the U.S. for up to 5 years to play or compete for prize money.
Eligibility for P1 Visa for Esports
P1 visas are a type of visa meant for athletes who are internationally recognized or part of an athletic team, to participate in an international level event hosted by the U.S. It’s very different from other types of visas such as a fiancé visa.
Gamers have received P visas as athletes with an “internationally recognized 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.” The P-1A visa for an individual (versus a team) is valid for a limited amount of time, usually the amount of time needed to compete in a tournament or competition, but not longer than five years for an individual. However, the visa can be extended for an additional five years in order to continue or complete the event, competition, or performance. The P-1A visa distinguishes between individual and team events and imposes different rules.
Precedence of Previously Approved Players
There are some notable eSports athletes who have been approved for their P1 visa. Here’s a look at some of these individuals and their individual case scenario:
Danny “Shiphtu” Le — Danny comes from a Canadian nationality and was the first player in the eSports category to successfully obtain a P1A visa. The nature of his visit to the U.S. was to participate in the League Championship series.
Kim “ViOLet” Dong Hwan — A Korean national, Kim was granted a P1 visa for 5 years to come to the U.S. as a professional gamer. eSport events and competitions were the nature of his visit. Noteworthy precedent in his case was that he came as a StarCraft player and not for the purpose of participating in the League Championship series. It shows that the possibility of being approved for a P1 visa when filed with the proper details and evidence.
Obtaining a P1 Visa
To obtain a P1 visa, the petition must be filed at least 6 months before the athlete or team is scheduled to appear. The application can’t be started by the athlete themselves. A U.S. employer or sponsor must complete the application. Here are the key steps to this process:
- The Employer/Sponsor must gather all the evidence needed to support your Nonimmigrant visa.
- Employer/Sponsor files Form-I-129, Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker.
- The athlete submits their Form DS-160, the standard form for visa applicants and pays the application fee to the U.S. Department of State.
- There is a scheduled visa interview at the Embassy or Consulate.
- Gather a copy of the petition and supporting evidence that you supplied to U.S. Immigration, as you will need it.
- Go to the visa interview, provide accurate information to U.S. Embassy officials, and provide your documents.
Evidence of Success
In 2019, the total number of P1 visas issued was 25,601, which is only approximately a 1 percent increase from the previous year. The key to successfully obtaining a P1 visa lies in providing concrete and complete evidence of your status as an internationally recognized athlete. The evidence that’s needed for a P1 petition for an esports visa includes but is not limited to the following elements:
- Written consultation that’s provided by a suitable labor organization
- Proof of a legal agreement with a U.S. sports league
- Meeting a minimum of two of the following items with supporting evidence:
- Have participated with a national team in international competitions
- Have had noteworthy participation in previous seasons with a major U.S. sports league
- Have had noteworthy participation in previous seasons in U.S. college/university held intercollegiate competitions
- Have achieved noteworthy honors or awards in the sport
- Have written statements made by a recognized expert or from a sports media
- Been ranked internationally from sports organizations that are recognized internationally
- Can provide a written statement from either an official of the sport’s governing body or from a major U.S. sports league that includes verification of applicant or team’s international recognition.
Johnson & Masumi Professionals Can Help You!
To obtain a P1 visa for eSports, you need to have experienced professionals that understand the complex nature of this process. Johnson and Masumi’s team of immigration attorneys are on your side to help you file the right paperwork, necessary documentation, and even get you ready for the interview process. Speak with our professionals today with a consultation so we can understand your unique situation and offer personalized guidance.