There is often a lot of confusion regarding what are permissible activities for professional grapplers coming to the United States to compete. In general, the most important rule to keep in mind is that foreign nationals are not allowed to work inside the US absent work authorization from USCIS. Permission to work is usually accompanied by or evidenced by a work permit (applied for on Form I-765) or specific visa, such as a P-1 Athlete Visa or O-1 Extraordinary Ability Visa. Otherwise, the rest of athletes here in America on visitor’s visas—either the B-1 Business Visa or B-2 Tourist Visa—are neither authorized to work or earn remuneration. Working without authorization or receiving pay for services can constitute a violation of one’s status, potentially resulting in a revocation of one’s visa, removal from the United States, as well as possible ineligibility to receive a new visa or even permanent residence in the future. That being said, the Foreign Affairs Manual which provides guidance to employees of the Department of State, the department which issues visas, does provide that Professional Athletes will generally qualify for B-1 Business Visas to enter the US temporarily to participate in athletic competitions. These athletes are ones “who receive no salary or payment other than prize money for their participation in a tournament or sporting event.” See 9 FAM 402.2-5 (C ) (U). Given this, professional Brazilian Jiujitsu athletes entering on B-1 Visas are allowed to receive prize money for tournaments and competitive events. However, athletes are not allowed to receive any remuneration or compensation for anything other than the competitive event. This means that athletes who are here to compete for the IBJJF World Championships, ADCC, Pan Championships, or other promotions need to be wary and careful of their extracurricular activities on their downtime when they are not competing. They should resist the temptation of getting paid for private lessons, seminars; or engaging in any type of activity that could be construed or perceived as earning money for a service.
It is worth noting that B-1 visas, as well as B-2 tourist visas, are generally limited to six months, after which the individual will be expected to leave the US and return to his/her country of residence. If the professional Brazilian Jiujitsu athlete is looking to actually work in the US and receive compensation for his athletic ability, the athlete should certainly explore other options such as the P-1 Visa, O-1 Visa, or even permanent residence through the EB-1, EB-2, EB-3 process. These options provide a lot more flexibility in terms of employment and length of stay here. However, the requirements are stringent and like training for a tournament, require strategy, dedication, and focus.
To learn more about what kind of options you may have as Brazilian Jiujitsu competitor, whether Gi or No-Gi, please contact our office and ask to schedule a consultation with Paris Lee, Esq. Attorney Lee has over 25 years of experience in the legal field and holds a Third-Degree Black Belt.