Money Smart Athlete Blog

Are you taking responsibility for US Immigration Issues as a Pro Athlete? Failing to plan is “planning to fail”

Nov 30, 2022 | Mature Athletes

By David Lesperance, Contributor

David Lesperance is a globally recognized expert on immigration, tax and citizenship with over 3 decades of assisting an international clientele of HNW families, highly mobile professionals and celebrities to organize their lives to maximize their mobility and lifestyle while minimizing their global tax burden. He can be reached through his website:

Think back to the days of wine and roses…do you remember the wonderful moment when you signed with a top US team – and your life started moving at a mile a minute?

As a non-American, I am willing to bet that any concerns you might have had about working in the US were forgotten as soon as your new GM said: “We will take care of the immigration issues…welcome aboard!” This was, of course, followed by somebody at the team head office calling you and completing a bunch of paperwork. A few weeks later you were the proud holder of a P-1 Visa. And since then, your team’s head office reached out regularly to arrange for its renewal.

What happens when you move on?

This regular renewal event continued (let us speculate) until you moved to a Canadian team or retired from playing in the US. Now there’s no one calling and reminding you about US immigration issues. However, during those few years you did marry, have children, even buy a house in the US. In fact, you have built up quite a comfortable life in the US.

Then one day – long after your last P-1 Visa expired – you are returning home to the US from a trip. Suddenly you are stopped by US border officials. After looking at your travel record on their computer and asking you a few questions, to your surprise you are denied entry into the US.

They do not consider you to be a genuine visitor! You then demand to see a supervisor to protest that you have come into the US “hundreds of times without a problem”. You insist that that your “wife and children are waiting at home” for your return. The supervisor then pronounces, “Well now …. any doubts I had about you not being a genuine visitor are now gone!”

If possible, things then get worse. Your fleeting plan about having a friend sneak you into the US on their boat or in their trunk are blown away by his next comment…. “And if you are thinking of sneaking in, that will buy you a 5 year bar from the US”.

Now you have to call home, break the bad news…and figure out a solution.

But this could never happen to me!

You may believe that such a scenario is impossible. Please note that in this Post 9 -11

Southern Border Frenzy period this storyline is indeed happening frequently. You owe it to yourself and your family to prevent it from happening to you.  It is critical that you take control of your US immigration planning immediately.

These visa renewal issues are complicated, even intricate. You have better things to do with your time… No, you do NOT!

 The US Immigration authorities have a constitutional duty to protect the nation’s borders– and if you do not cooperate with the system, you face automatic exclusion.

Key things to consider regarding US immigration Issues for professional athletes

Before we look at potential solutions for your situation, let’s first determine the key questions that you will need to answer.

  1. Should you move beyond the P-1 Visa and apply for Resident Alien status?
  2. What is the best pathway to follow to Resident Alien status if playing in US, or if playing in Canada, or if retired?
  3. What is the best way to proceed: to adjust your status or to apply outside the US?
  4. Can you leave or enter the US during the process and not ruin your application?
  5. What are the tax implications of acquiring Resident Alien status and/or US citizenship?
  6. Will you lose your current citizenship if you acquire US citizenship?

Many options that are available to you

There are a number of options for professional athletes who want to live in the U.S. permanently. These are based around the EB series of “exceptional ability” visas, each of which is designed to meet the needs of an exceptional talent as an athlete – and in several cases, a coach as well. These can be summarized as:

  • “EB-1 alien with extraordinary ability.” This can be petitioned by you directly – i.e., no employer is required.
  • “EB-2 alien with exceptional abilities in the arts, sciences or business with a national interest waiver.” The USCIS has stated that the “arts” include athletics. This, again, can be petitioned by you; no employer is required.
  • “EB-2 alien with exceptional ability or advanced degreed professional with pre-certification under Schedule A Group II (exceptional ability in the arts and sciences).” The USCIS has stated that the “arts” include athletics.
  • “EB-2 alien with exceptional ability in the arts, sciences or business or advanced degreed professionals.” The USCIS has, once again, stated that the “arts” include athletics.
  • “EB-3 skilled or professional worker.” An athlete or coach can be viewed as suitable for a skilled or professional position.

These are good starting points for discussions to figure out the right long-term US immigration strategy not only for yourself, but also for your family.

The point that I want to emphasize here is that each athlete needs to take individual responsibility for his or her immigration status – and not leave it to others, however morally or practically supportive they may have been in the past. In addition, each athlete needs to plan for the day of retirement – and either plan to remain in the US, or undertake a clean exit, tax-wise.

Different wines await… sweeter roses…!

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