Pathways to Permanent Residence
Most foreign athletes will enter the U.S. on a nonimmigrant visa, or one that allows only temporary stays in the United States. In order to qualify for many of these visas, individuals must prove ties to his or her country of origin and demonstrate intent to return there at the end of the authorized stay. However, some of these visa categories also allow “dual intent” so that an individual may intend to depart as well as simultaneously pursuing permanent residence status.
Qualified athletes may pursue permanent residence under an employment-based category. Some categories require that a PERM application is certified by the U.S. Department of Labor to prove that no minimally-qualified U.S. workers are ready, willing, and able to fill the job and that U.S. workers’ wages are not negatively affected by the foreign worker.
There are two main categories that allow athletes to pursue permanent residence without first obtaining a labor certification: the EB-1 visa and the EB-2 visa with National Interest Waiver.
Employment-Based Immigration: First Preference EB-1
The EB-1 visa is reserved for individuals with extraordinary abilities in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics. You must provide evidence of this ability through sustained national or international acclaim and your achievements must be recognized in your field. This proof might include:
- Evidence of receipt of lesser nationally or internationally recognized prizes or awards for excellence
- Evidence of your membership in associations in the field which demand outstanding achievement of their members
- Evidence of published material about you in professional or major trade publications or other major media
- Evidence that you have been asked to judge the work of others, either individually or on a panel
- Evidence of your original scientific, scholarly, artistic, athletic, or business-related contributions of major significance to the field
- Evidence of your authorship of scholarly articles in professional or major trade publications or other major media
- Evidence that your work has been displayed at artistic exhibitions or showcases
- Evidence of your performance of a leading or critical role in distinguished organizations
- Evidence that you command a high salary or other significantly high remuneration in relation to others in the field
- Evidence of your commercial successes in the performing arts
Employment-Based Immigration: Second Preference EB-2 & National Interest Waiver (NIW)
The EB-2 visa, in conjunction with a National Interest Waiver (NIW) is for individuals with exceptional abilities in the arts, sciences or business; USCIS has determined the “arts” also includes athletics. You must provide evidence of your ability, or show you have “a degree of expertise significantly above that ordinarily encountered in the sciences, arts, or business.” When requesting a NIW, you must also demonstrate that it is in the national interest to work permanently in the U.S. and your employment would greatly benefit the nation. Criteria might include:
- Official academic record showing that you have a degree, diploma, certificate, or similar award from a college, university, school, or other institution of learning relating to your area of exceptional ability
- Letters documenting at least 10 years of full-time experience in your occupation
- A license to practice your profession or certification for your profession or occupation
- Evidence that you have commanded a salary or other remuneration for services that demonstrates your exceptional ability
- Membership in a professional association(s)
- Recognition for your achievements and significant contributions to your industry or field by your peers, government entities, professional or business organizations
- Other comparable evidence of eligibility is also acceptable.
Athletes or coaches may also be qualified for an EB-3 visa for skilled workers, professionals or other workers. Individuals applying for this category must have a permanent, full-time job offer and a labor certification must be submitted to the Department of Labor. While this category has less rigorous requirements, there is higher demand and therefore a longer backlog for EB-3 visas. Individuals from some countries may wait over a decade for a visa to become available.