The tangled web of Esports Athletes and Foreign Visas
Visa issues for Esport professionals have long been plagued the industry, particularly for those who compete in competitions hosted in the United States of America. But just how complicated can this problem be to largely affect competitors outside of USA?
Next month will witness the culmination of pro Dota 2 as Valve opens up the main event of the The International Dota 2 Championships, the annual celebration of competitive Dota 2 which started with the game’s launch back in 2011, and a tournament that is known not only for the caliber of players and memorable plays but also the size of its prizepool.
Hosted once more in Seattle’s Key Arena, TI6 is expected to invite thousands of spectators on-site and possibly more than a million online through various official and non-official livestreaming channels to witness which of the 18 teams will be crowned as this year’s best Dota 2 team.
Speaking of teams, the Filipinos themselves will have not just 1 but 2 teams to root for as local heroes TNC Pro Team Dota 2 and Execration managed to secure their respective spots at TI6, the former being the winners of the regional qualifiers and the latter on a much more harder road as they will compete for a spot through the wildcards. This will be the first time since TI1 when the Philippines will have its flag-bearer for TI and the first in the history of TI to have 2 Filipino teams attending the event. The Filipino gaming crowd, and even the rest of the world wishes both of the teams good luck in their endeavor as they head to Seattle to compete, if not for one problem.
Yes, we are back at the same page as where Rave was back in April 2015 although this time in much more troubled waters as early reports suggests that neither of the teams are able to secure their Visas to the US yet.
But just how complex can a Visa application for Esports pros be, especially if they want to play in the US?
Short answer: Very
And it is a long and very tedious process to boot.
A quick search on the interwebs suggests that it is not only TNC and Execration or even Rave that suffers from Visa issues for being Esports pros but numerous ones as well with some notable cases including Super Smash Bros. Melee player William “Leffen” Hjelte and North American LCS Team Echo Fox.
As pointed out by other news sources, both TNC and Execration were initially suggested to secure B1/B2 type Visas which would classify them as non-immigrants who will visit the USA for Business (B1) or Tourism (B2) purposes, with Valve, the organizer of TI and the one who suggested that they do so, stating that the other teams are able to use those type of Visas to compete for previous instances of TI. However, as the applications seem to be successful enough to grant them passage to the USA, the US embassy has added that both teams will also have to secure P1 Visas which are required for Athletes who wish to compete in competition hosted in the United States of America (hooray for Esports tournaments starting to be considered as an athletic competition in the US!), which means that they may fly to the USA and be at TI, but they won’t be able to compete at TI.
But Valve said that the B1 and B2 Visas are okay?
They are okay BACK THEN, as more and more premiere Esports competitions are being held in the US, such as the LCS, TI, ESL, EVO, MLG and others, the country has seen a surge in the number of foreign players and has finally opened up their regulation procedures and start to consider Esports pros at the same level of Esports athletes, this also following a number of petitions for Esports tournaments to be considered as Athletic events, particularly the one made back in April 29, 2016 and addressed directly to the White House.
The P1 Visa Explained
The P1 Visa is defined as “applicable to aliens entering the United States to perform at a specific athletic competition as an athlete, individually or as part of a group or team, at an internationally recognized level of performance“. A P1 Visa is granted to an individual or team for the duration of the event that they are competing on that will not exceed beyond 1 year if in case the event is a league. With the atmosphere leaning towards favoring regulation for Esports, applications for paperwork such as Visas can become a painstaking process, especially in the west and such is the case of the P1 Visa. The application process for a P1 can take up to months and a number of requirements both from the athlete and the organizing body is required.
As for individuals who wish to secure a P1 Visa, the following documents are requested for them to have their application considered and approved:
- Evidence of having legally contracted with a major U.S. sports league
- A written consultation from an appropriate labor organization
- Evidence demonstrating that the athlete meets at least two of the following criteria:
- Significant participation in U.S. major sports league in prior seasons
- Participation in international competitions with a national team
- Significant participation in a prior U.S. college/university season in inter-collegiate competitions
- Written statement from a major U.S. sports league or official of the sport’s governing body demonstrating the alien’s or team’s international recognition
- Written statement from the sports media or a recognized expert
- International ranking provided by internationally recognized sports’ organizations
- Significant honors/awards in the sport
In addition to these requirements, the P1 Visa also requires a petition for application coming from the a US Employer, which in this case will be the tournament organizer, Valve, which is first reviewed and approved by the USCIS before the said athlete or pro can start their application process.
The hard part
Application is a process of many parts, from submission and reviewing of petitions to handing of documents which will be carefully reviewed by Immigration officers, but the hardest part would be the interview, in which most players and applicants are potentially lost as they scramble to prove that they do not intend to stay in the USA for beyond the approved duration or non-immigrant intent, Joe Adams, a lawyer specializing in immigration when interviewed by RedBull.com puts it as “a very important subtlety that I think gets lost on a lot of people. You have to convince an officer that you don’t plan to secretly overstay your visa. If you can’t convince an officer of that, then the officer won’t grant you the visa”.
Why the B1/B2 Visa won’t work anymore
While the B1 and B2 Type Visas may still grant you entry, it will not grant you the option to compete, at least from a legal perspective, as it prohibits holders from participating in social events hosted by fraternal, social or service organizations, participate in amateur musical, eSports or similar events or contests IF NOT BEING PAID TO PARTICIPATE, and with the structure of Esports, it is an undeniable claim that the players both TNC and Execration are being paid by their respective managing bodies to compete in TI. Although it might not be clear if Valve’s multimillion dollar prize pool may also count as payment to the participating teams which may also possibly attribute to this said prohibition.
What needs to be done
As sad as it may sound, both TNC and Execration will have to undertake the Visa application process one more time, this time for a P1 type Visa and hope that the requirements they submit as well as the time to decide if they are approved or not be expited, while chances of their Visa’s approval might already clear as they are able to initially secure B1/B2’s, the length of the application is both of the teams common enemy in this battle.
The blaming game?
So where do we point our fingers in this case and to whom do we raise our pitchforks against? With the prior existence of Esports pros and Visa related issues, the managing body of both teams are (sadly) partly at fault for this incident as with its honest lack of proper information regarding the due processes that needed to be done on similar occasions of Visa issues among Esports players, as relied solely on the suggestion of the organizing body. While there is nothing entirely wrong with it, it pays to be well aware should issues such as these arise, and have contingencies at the ready. On the other hand, one might also say that the system itself is at fault for both still not considering Esports as a viable competitive and athletic event even with the numerous reports of revenue and reach, and studies that relete Esports to traditional sporting events and as well as petitions that benefit stakeholders, however, with Esports being a phenomenon that suddenly burst through the international audience, there are a lot of factors that one needs to look into first, and it will be a pretty long battle ahead before an official regulation on both national and international is considered.On the other hand, as it has been long debated, Valve’s format of organizing their self-sponsored tournaments may have to be revamped as to give ample time to players that compete, whether invited or qualified through qualification tournaments, secure the necessary travel documents, especially in a country that handles travel matters delicately, and whose decisions may potentially be easily affected by ongoing events around the globe. Perhaps Valve may consider other locations as the host country for TI in the coming years to assess these issues, but if not then the suggestion of providing a longer period of preparation time, especially for teams that will have to go through the qualifier stages may be the one of the best suggestions that one may think of.