Employment-Based Visas for Professional Gamers

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US Visas For Pro Gamers

At this point, most of us grew up playing video games. The imaginary worlds and characters usher feelings of cheerful nostalgia and memories of lighthearted competition among friends.

Increasingly, professional gaming is receiving recognition as a legitimate and highly specialized industry and constitutes a hybrid between sport and art. The world of professional gaming or “eSports,” has evolved into a very serious industry where the best and most talented individuals duke it out in global tournaments for serious prize money.

An example of the increasing legitimacy demanded by eSports professionals occurred in May 2013, when the USCIS determined a professional gamer qualified for a P-1 visa.

The P-1 classification is for individuals coming to the U.S. temporarily to perform at a specific athletic competition as an athlete, individually or as part of a group or team at a high level of performance. What was once reserved for “traditional athletes” competing in one of the major sports such as baseball, basketball, soccer and hockey is now being awarded to professionals in “StarCraft” and “League of Legends.”

To qualify for a P-1, one must perform as an athlete individually or as a part of a group or team that is “internationally recognized” and has had a sustained and substantial relationship with the group, usually over a period of at least one year. Internationally recognized means “a high level of achievement … evidenced by a degree of skill and recognition substantially above that ordinarily encountered, to the extent such achievement is renowned, leading or well-known in more than one country.”

For professional gamers seeking to live and work in the US, another attractive option is the “O-1A – Extraordinary Ability” visa.

The O-1A is a visa specifically set aside for foreign nationals who demonstrate extraordinary talent and aptitude in the arts, sciences, athletics, or business by sustained national or international acclaim, and who is coming temporarily to the United States to continue to work in the area of extraordinary ability.

Organized gaming competitions are held internationally and include rankings, prize money, trophies, and major corporate sponsorships. As eSports has grown exponentially in the past several years, the USCIS has officially begun recognizing eSports players as professional athletes when considering their visa applications.

An O-1A visa, unlike the P-1, can be obtained for somebody competing on an individual level rather than for a team.

While an O-1A visa contains many advantages, it can be difficult to obtain. A successful candidate for an O-1A visa must provide evidence of three out of eight possible statutory criteria to demonstrate the applicant has risen to the top of the field of endeavor.

Successful eSport O-1A applicants generally: a) have received nationally or internationally recognized prizes or awards for excellence in the field of endeavor, b) have published material in professional or major trade publications or major media about them, relating to their work in their field of expertise, and c) has been employed in a critical or essential capacity for organizations and establishments that have a distinguished reputation.

The relevant prizes, awards, and published material can come from anybody in the world, as long as they are related to eSports.

It is important to keep in mind that both the P-1 and O-1 visas are reserved for individuals competing at very high levels of international competition, who have received substantial international acclaim.

For more information about the P-1 Visa, O-1 Visa or immigration in general, please contact the award-winning Lightman Law Firm of New York at one of the following: 212-643-0985; email us; or submit a contact form.

Lightman Law Firm was recently honored as New York’s 2015 Immigration Law Firm of the Year by Acquisition International. Additionally, founding attorney, Douglas Lightman, was named a “Rising Star” by SuperLawyers.com. Lightman Law Firm also carries a 4.9 rating on Google Reviews.