ARMCHAIR ATHLETES – Video Gamers can now get P1A Visas as Professional Athletes
So you say that video gamers aren’t athletes? The United States Citizenship and Immigration Service would disagree with you, as would a rapidly growing fan base and increasingly well compensated joystick jockeys.
2013 saw a handful of P1A Visas approved for gamers, and you can bet that their numbers will be increasing. P1A Visas are non-immigrant visas which are issued for up to 5 years which allow professional athletes to live, train, and work in the United States. Until now, these visas were exclusively used for traditional athletes like baseball and basketball players. But changes in technology and culture, coupled with creative lawyering, have extended the playing field to the virtual world.
Take, for example, the story of South Korean gamer Kim Dong Hwan, who is a professional gamer in the world of StarCraft 2, according to a recent article on the Huffington Post. (Read the entire article here http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/12/16/korean-gamer-visa-starcraft-2_n_4453742.html) This young man has earned almost $100,000 in the last three years competing in this game, and is ranked #63 in the world. The World Championship Series for StarCraft tournament last year paid out 1.6 million to the champion.
Gaming is a booming industry. League of Legends, created by a Santa Monica company called Riot, is one such success story. It has been estimated by industry analysts that more than 32 million people worldwide play the game, with half that number coming for the US. Tournaments have filled venues as large as Staples Center in Los Angeles, where approximately 22,000 spectators came to watch the latest StarCraft championship.
This is an exciting new area for immigration law, and the demands for the P1A visa are quite high. Successful applicants need to demonstrate international recognition of their achievements in the field (individually or as a team), must be sponsored by a US employer (most likely a team of gamers), with a few other requirements. Spouses and children can accompany the successful applicant with P-4 visas as well. As with any Immigrant or Non-Immigrant Visas, it is always advisable to speak with an experienced immigration attorney before applying. For more information on P1A Visas, you can visit the USCIS website http://www.uscis.gov/working-united-states/temporary-workers/p-1a-internationally-recognized-athlete.