Pro Gamers Stuck on First Level of Immigration Due to Visa Issues

Visa issues are unfortunately prevalent in the eSports industry, as international travel is required for most top level players.

Most recently, EHOME, a team from China, had to be replaced at the ESL One tournament in New York for failing to obtain a Visa to attend the tournament.

EHOME qualified for ESL One on September 23, 2015, but due to a public holiday in China, the US embassy was closed September 26th, 27th, 28th, and 30th.

Since ESL One was scheduled for the weekend of October 3rd, that left EHOME three days to obtain the requisite visas to attend the tournament. However, several team members failed to obtain the necessary documentation in that limited timeframe.

The EHOME players weren’t the only individuals to have difficulty obtaining visas lately to partake in eSports tournaments in the U.S. lately. On September 30th, William “Leffen” Hjelte, a professional Smash Bros player from Sweden, was denied entry into the U.S. to attend a major tournament. The specific facts involved in his situation are unclear, although Leffen indicated that there was an issue being sponsored by a U.S. business (his team) and utilizing the Electronic System for Travel Authorization, as opposed to obtaining a visa.

Although it may be surprising, according to the Federal Government, professional video game players are also professional athletes, at least as far as immigration is concerned.  Foreign players may apply for the P-1A visa, which the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services specifies is for individuals which “are 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 an internationally recognized level of performance.”

Despite allowing eSports players to obtain P-1A visas, the visa process, in general, is notoriously complex. For example, according to the USCIS, a requirement to obtain a P-1A visa is to show documentation of at least two of the following:

  1. Evidence of having participated to a significant extent in a prior season with a major United States sports league
  2. Evidence of having participated to a significant extent in international competition with a national team
  3. Evidence of having participated to a significant extent in a prior season for a US College or university in intercollegiate competition
  4. A written statement from an official of a major US sports league or an official of the governing body of the sport which details how the player or their team is internationally recognized
  5. A written statement from a member of the sports media or a recognized expert in the sport which details how the player or their team is internationally recognized
  6. Evidence that the player or their team is ranked, if the sport has international rankings
  7. Evidence that the player or their team has received a significant honor or award in the sport.

Given that this visa initially catered to the professional sports industry, it is easy to see how many of these requirements can be met. However, depending on the particular game, eSports teams and players cannot easily show evidence of these categories. For instance, if a player plays a game which is not team based, yet is a member of an international team, and this game does not have a professional league in the United States but occasional professional tournaments, which of the above categories could they possibly provide evidence of? Seemingly, the only available methods would be the multiple written statements, or evidence of international rankings, assuming such rankings exist. Yet, the difficulty continues, because as a nascent professional industry, which individuals would satisfy the statement requirements? Unfortunately at this time, there are not many clear answers.

Although the visa process may still be complex, at least the U.S. has recognized that eSports players are athletes for immigration purposes. However, for the eSports industry at large, immigration is a problem. Most of the major eSports tournaments do not take place in the U.S., and many countries have not yet clarified their immigration stance for eSports players.  As the eSports industry grows in popularity and revenue worldwide, these immigration issues should be addressed both domestically and abroad.