Immigration Strategies on the Road to Tokyo 2020
By: Joshua Bratter and Cheyenne Rodriguez
The Olympic year is almost upon us.
2020 seemed distant not so long ago… In Rio 2016, Michael Phelps swam his last race ever, Katie Ledecky became a household name, Simone Manuel made history while simultaneously and rightfully burying an unjustified stereotype in gold medal style, Anthony Ervin won the sport’s most furious race by the slimmest margins, and Kyle Chalmers won the 100m Freestyle in an unprecedented fashion.
Since then, new stars—both domestic and foreign—have risen to international prominence. The sport of swimming has undergone a metamorphosis; resulting in a global commercial evolution. Since then, swimmers have new and even more possibilities to continue professional careers with Pro Groups across the United States.
Pro Groups existed before, but they are becoming more prominent as the sport continues its rightful ascension into the realm of professionalism (i.e. ISL franchises, higher payouts in the TYR Pro Swim Series, FINA Champions Series). This has led to a direct increase in elite, foreign swimmers joining U.S.-based Pro Groups as they prepare for the Olympics, FINA World Championships, an array of professional events.
The United States has the best coaching environment in the world and therefore is a magnet for the best and brightest. This is no unsupported hyperbole lauding American-based coaches; it is a fact that their endeavors continue to attract some of the best foreign swimmers. Arthur Albiero, Dave Salo, Sergio Lopez, David Marsh, Gregg Troy, Brett Hawke, and many others regularly work with elite, foreign swimmers.
Swimmers do not sign contracts with their Pro Groups. They are supported by sponsorship deals from swimwear apparel brands, sports brands, government stipends (with some exceptions relating to Team USA) and other miscellaneous endorsements. Swimmers join Pro Groups to continue competing and training at the best possible levels; ones which mirror or surpass that of Division I collegiate swimming. Even in Olympic years, the NCAA Division I Championships are arguably the fastest swimming competitions in the world, so it is understandable that swimmers seek to continue competing and training at that level.
But how can our coaches invite the elite, foreign swimmers to join their teams?
The answer: securing a P-1A Visa.
A P-1A Visa is for Internationally Recognized Athletes seeking to enter the United States to perform or compete at specific athletic competitions. Sounds perfect for those competing in the ISL, TYR Pro Swim Series, and other competitions, right?
Moreover, a P Visa in general, is not a traditional employment-based category; rather it has been designated for professionals who are customarily self-employed, such as athletes in individual sports, artists, and entertainers. This is perfect for the agreements made between the coach of Pro Groups and their swimmers.
As we just mentioned, the P-1A Visa is reserved for Internationally Recognized Athletes. Does this mean they need to be globally famous? Not at all.
USCIS has defined international recognition as “having a high level of achievement in a field evidenced by a degree of skill and recognition above that ordinarily encountered, to the extent that such achievement is renowned, leading, or well-known in more than one country”.
That unnecessary mouthful means USCIS wants to see that the foreign swimmer competes internationally and/or at a specific, high-caliber level.
Additionally, the beauty of the P-1A Visa is that it can be developed as a 2-for-1 framework. The P-1A Visa permits athletes to include supporting personnel in their Visa petition. For example, more successful swimmers may have their own athletic trainer, physiotherapist, or nutritionist who they wish to have with them on their Olympic journey, while other swimmers may have their own foreign coaches who may also have an invite from U.S.-based teams.
The Olympics are swimming’s time to shine on the biggest stage on earth, and if your path to Tokyo leads through the United States, a P-1A visa may be an effective way to make that happen. If you need help working through the process of a P-1A visa, we, at Bratter, have done so for many swimmers, and we are ready to help you.
Attorney Joshua Bratter currently serves as the official Immigration Counsel to the American Swimming Coaches Association and he’s SwimSwam’s Immigration Expert and partner.