Extraordinary concern - J'can athletes seeking US visas may face more obstacles
Ksenia Maiorova, an American immigration lawyer, has said that Jamaican athletes seeking US visas based on "extraordinary ability" in sports may have a difficult time obtaining them from now on.
A visa rewarded on the condition of extraordinary ability is granted to a person who is able to demonstrate special skill in the sciences, arts, education, business or athletics. Many athletes looking to play sports professionally overseas, especially footballers looking to get into Major League Soccer (MLS) in the United States of America, apply for this type of visa.
Maiorova, managing partner at the Maiorova Law Group based in Orlando, Florida, said that consular officers are now going outside of their jurisdiction to make decisions on whether persons can be considered to possess extraordinary ability.
"There is a two-step process," she told The Gleaner. "Step one is that a petition is filed with our immigration service, the (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services [USCIS]) inside the US. The purpose of the petition is to prove that the athlete is accomplished or extraordinary enough to get the visa classification he is seeking.
"Now, let's say the petition is approved. The applicant must then complete step two, which is going to the US consulate (which is under the US Department of State) and applying for the visa based on the approved petition. This step isn't about determining whether the applicant is extraordinary because he already has an approved petition saying he is. It's supposed to be to see if he falls into a category of people who are barred from coming to the US, like criminals, terrorists, and people who were previously deported.
"If they aren't barred from the US, and they have a petition approved by USCIS, the consulate is supposed to issue the visa unless they discover fraud. If they see fraud, they can send the petition back to USCIS for them to review. But what happens is that consular officers are sending petitions back because they don't agree that the person is extraordinary enough, not due to fraud, even though they have no jurisdiction to opine on the question of extraordinary ability," Maiorova explained.
She said that persons making this decision may not have enough knowledge of sports to do so.
"I can write that my client is an athlete who won the Diamond League but the officer has no idea what that is if I don't thoroughly explain what it is and its significance," she said.
Jamaica Football Federation president Michael Ricketts said he sees such a situation suggested by Maiorova as cause for great concern. He said that it is even more concerning because of the four local players recently invited to the MLS Caribbean Combine next week. These are Alex Marshall and Jeadine White of Cavalier SC, Maalique Foster of Portmore United and Arnett Gardens FC's Oniel Anderson.
"I get that feeling of being depressed because there are so many of our young players looking forward to playing abroad," he said.
However, Ricketts admitted to not being fully informed about the finer details surrounding obtaining this kind of visa.
"If this is so, this will certainly affect our ability to export our players into North America. I need to look into this more and have fulsome discussions with the US Ambassador and other relevant persons at the US Embassy and get an update as to exactly how this would affect us. Hopefully it wouldn't hurt us too much," Ricketts said.
Maiorova said that should an athlete face this issue but does not get the option of a redetermination, he or she may redo the application process. However, while athletes such as footballers and basketball players who are looking to sign for American franchises may have their application sponsored by that team, other athletes such as those in track and field, may have to spend their own money to do so.
There are currently 14 Jamaicans playing in MLS.