Countless elite international swimmers and coaches who are training and competing in the United States have worked with Mr. Joshua Bratter to secure immigration status and residency. He is simply the ‘go-to authority’ in the field for swimmers who desire to come to the United States. In a career spanning 19 years, Josh has obtained approvals on hundreds of EB 1.1 petitions for Aliens of Extraordinary Ability in the areas of Athletics (Arts, Sciences, Technology, Business and Entertainment). His writings on the subject and accomplishments have been published in The Washington Post, The Miami Herald, The Jewish Star Times, The Minerva Review, The Washington Report on the Hemisphere, as well as being featured in Semana, El Tiempo, El Nuevo Herald, El Espectador, HOY, Tres Puntos, The Jerusalem Post, Ocean Drive, South Florida CEO and The San Antonio Star, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Jamaica Gleaner, The Observer, Variety Magazine and myriad professional trade journals.
A professor of Law at the University of Miami School of Law, Josh designed and teaches the first LLM level course on the Immigration Representation of Extraordinary Ability foreign nationals.
While Josh is not a competitive swimmer (or swammer), he’s a friend and fellow alum of the Mercersburg Academy, which has a long, storied history in the sport. In addition to his professional work as an immigration attorney, Josh wrote, and executive produced the award-winning documentary film, The Black Line, featuring the biggest names in swimming. Josh currently serves as the official Immigration Counsel to the American Swimming Coaches Association and he’s SwimSwam’s Immigration Expert and partner.
Q: Does timing play a role in the process, is there a “right” time to file?
A: Timing is a critical element of the process; but when we discuss timing, we are referring to the twin interests of athlete representation within the immigration context; 1.) identifying the moment when an athlete has performed at a level that would satisfy statutory criteria; i.e. following Worlds, Olympics or national competitions, with the corresponding media. Another equally important consideration as it relates to timing is 2.) the competition schedule of the athlete. Many athletes compete internationally on an ongoing basis. The immigration process has certain travel restrictions; we have to harmonize the need to secure competition results on an international level, with the restrictions on travel, which is an intrinsic component of any immigration process.
Q: I’ve heard about student visas, work visas, athlete visas and the sacrosanct Green Card? What’s the difference and what does that mean for both collegiate and international athletes?
A: Yes, indeed, the immigration alphabet. As a threshold consideration, there are no “categorical approaches” to immigration strategy, each strategy is tailored to the background, objectives and performance level of the athlete. While an F may be appropriate as a student athlete, a P may be more appropriate for an athlete intending on competing, while an O may be a strategic consideration for an athlete looking to position themselves for residency. Athletes with international “hardware” from major competitions; Worlds, Olympics, Commonwealth, Pan Am, and in certain instances NCAA, have other options that may obviate the need for a visa category, and allow for a direct residency petition.
Q: I know you work with National Champions from small Caribbean countries, as well as luminaries from international powerhouses like Brazil, Russia and the UK, are they the same types of case, how do they both qualify.
A: Great question, again, a practitioner cannot employ a “one size fits all” methodology to immigration strategies. The operative words in many of these categories are “National acclaim”, that is, being a “sustained” leader on a national level. I can think of countless athletes from the Caribbean, who, despite the size of their country, compete with, the best of the best…I happen to be fortunate enough to work with such an athlete. This phenomenon actually inspired the research and production of the award-winning documentary, The Black Line.
Q: I note that your work seems to concentrate on athletes, but behind every great athlete, is a great coach, do coaches qualify?
A: The field of “athletics” by its definition, and the corresponding statutory language, contemplates the critical role of coaches in the professional achievements of their athletes. Our firm is also Immigration Counsel to ASCA the American Swim Coaches Association, and have represented many coaches, from NCAA D1 coaches, to coaches of National Federations and Olympic Teams, to Club Teams, and even age-group leaders. There are cases where a coach may be the determinative factor in performance. But, this raises larger questions about the scope of our practice in the broader areas of “aquatics”.
Q: How expansive is the category in the field of aquatics?
A: In this regard, our work has included Internationally-Renowned Synchronized Swimmers, Divers & Water Polo athletes. Synchronized Swimming has become a very interesting area, given the hybridized nature of dance and swimming. Diving is unique, because the duration of an athlete’s competitive career may span over a decade. We have represented 4x Olympians in the sport of diving; that’s 16 years!
Q: Josh, you’re a renaissance man. I know your practice covers the arts, tech and entertainment, but it’s very chlorinated. Why swimming? What started it all?
A: I learned that term, “Renaissance man”, as a young student, while writing a paper on Alexander Hamilton…if Hamilton is the standard, I am no renaissance man(!) just a lawyer with a lot of curiosity. My work in the field of swimming began as a serendipitous encounter with an old friend from our alma mater. He was training in Miami, and I asked if I could come say hello. It quickly became apparent that the entire group was comprised of foreign athletes, recently graduated from college. I was introduced to one of their coaches who had questions on “getting one of my athletes legal.” This was in 2005. The coach was Michael Lohberg, Dara Torres’s coach, and the athlete was the legendary breaststroker, Vlad Polyakov. Vlad became more than a client, but a “de facto” ambassador for my firm. A relationship that endures to this day! Since then, we have worked with several hundred swimmers. This summer, we had the privilege of watching 29 of our clients compete in Rio.
Q: Let’s address the elephant in the room. Most of us know foreign elites training in the US. More often than not they’re close friends. Under President Trump the topic of immigration has devolved into a heated debate. Currently it feels like the welcome map has been yanked away. You’re on the front lines. How much of this is fear, and how much is grounded in reality?
A: Yes, The Trump Effect…how do you aim, when you have a moving target? The immigration vision of President Trump is rooted in a very nativist, reaction-driven approach, with a keen awareness of the power of soundbites in a media-driven culture. While it is clear that his administration has a restrictionist, enforcement-driven approach, supported by some very troubling designations in his cabinet, we have seen some very radical changes. It is clear that his focus has been on the oft-criticized Court system, and the handling of removal and foreign nationals with criminal convictions. Yes, there has been talk about employment-based categories, wage reduction, job displacement, but to date, our “space” has been outside of the dialogue, or shall we say, rhetoric. I think it is likely that we will see a tightening of adjudications and literalist interpretation of the statutory language. We are ready. We will keep fighting for our clients, and will challenge any decision that is inconsistent with the statutory framework and governing jurisprudence.
Q: EB 1.1 petitions? How can international elites qualify as Aliens of Extraordinary Ability? It sounds like be crowned a superhero. While I’ve always thought swimmers were superhero-esque, what are the legal metrics to qualify?
A: These are time of uncertainty. Uncertainty promotes fear. We believe in immigration not merely from a legal level, but from a philosophical and human approach. We will make ourselves available for inquiries and chats to dispel the myths. I invite members of the community to call or write us with inquiries, schedule skype calls, get the information out there. Swim to the wall!
Thank you, Josh, for taking the time to talk. You have an extraordinary team working for extraordinary clients. If anyone wishes to contact Josh for a webinar on the topics he has covered, you can do that here.