This month, the International Brazilian Jiujitsu Federation (IBJJF) announced that it will now be awarding cash prizes to winners at the World Championships. Prizes will reportedly range from $4000 to $7000 for regular divisions, depending on the number of competitors, and $10,000 for Black Belt Absolute Champions. While this is welcome news, foreign national athletes intending on visiting the US to compete at the Mundials should bear this development in mind when applying for their visas. It may be a technical point, but like jiujitsu, being technical can go a long way. Conversely, ignoring the finer points can be detrimental and hurt your game in the long term.
In general, foreign athletes must be authorized to earn income in the United States. Two common non-immigrant visas that allow this are the O visa for extraordinary athletes, and the P visa for internationally recognized athletes who are exceptional in their sport. Both visas typically involve an employer who will be sponsoring and paying the athlete to either compete or in some cases, instruct for a specified period of time. If, however, an athlete is not coming for employment but merely to compete in a tournament in the US, a B visitor visa may be more appropriate. The individual must demonstrate that the purpose of the visit is temporary in nature and that he/she has a residence outside the US which he/she has no intention of abandoning.
Technically speaking, there are two types of B visas: there is the B-1 Business Visitor Visa and the B-2 Tourist Visa. As mentioned previously, neither permits employment. However, in the sports context, professional athletes are allowed to earn prize money if they are entering on the B-1 Business Visa. However, amateur athletes are not. This distinction may seem like a matter of semantics, but entering under the wrong type of visa can have long term ramifications. For example, if an individual applies for and is admitted into the United States on a B-2 tourist visa to visit Disney World, but competes in the Worlds and wins money, such conduct may be construed as a violation of status and lead to revocation of one’s visa. Taking things further, the individual may possibly be charged with making a misrepresentation to the consulate. If that individual applies for a visa or permanent residence in the future, that misrepresentation may constitute a lifetime ground of inadmissibility, unless waived. Therefore, professional individuals intending on coming to compete for cash prizes (who are not on previously authorized sports visas, such as the aforementioned O or P) need to ensure that they are properly admitted in the appropriate category. While on this point, it also bears mentioning that individuals admitted on visitors visas-whether B-1 or B-1–who earn income
through private lessons, seminars, and teaching may be charged with violating their status if it appears they are receiving remuneration for services or in essence, working.
These are just some of the technical pitfalls and traps that can ensnare an otherwise innocent foreign national who may not be aware of these legal nuances. Just as preparing for any tournament requires planning and strategy, accomplishing one’s immigration goals requires a similar mindset. For more than twenty years, our office has successfully guided and counseled Brazilian jiujitsu athletes on how to win their status, visas, or green cards. For more information, please contact our office.
The above is general information only and not intended to serve as legal advice. It does not create an attorney client relationship, nor should it be relied upon in lieu of consultation with an immigration attorney.