There’s No Place Like Home: Visiting Oz When you Don’t Have a Visa

What is a visa?  Such a simple question, but there remains so much confusion about what a visa actually is.  To explain this simple concept I illustrate  by way of the movie, “The Wizard of Oz”?  Readers will recall that, after their long and perilous journey, Dorothy, with Toto and her coterie, approaches the gates of the Emerald City and knocks on the giant door.   A small portal opens up and a little man peaks out the window and demands to know, “Who goes there!”  Dorothy ( or is it the Scarecrow?) explains that they’ve traveled all the way from Kansas to see the Wizard and ask to be admitted to the Emerald City.  The Porter will have none of it, however, and slams the portal shut:  Dorothy lacks any papers, letters of introduction or any other document to confirm her bona fides as a visitor to the Land of Oz.   What Dorothy needed was a visa.  

A visa is that document, usually stamped into one’s passport, that permits the bearer to approach a “port of entry” (the portal in our Oz story), and request to be admitted for a particular purpose that has been pre-approved by a U.S. Consulate abroad.   A visa lets the traveler request permission to enter the country and it lets the officer at the port of entry know that the bearer has been pre-approved by a U.S. consulate in his or her home country to enter the United States.  It’s that simple.  A visa does not guarantee admission and it does not state how long the bearer can stay in the country.  If Dorothy had had a visa, she could have requested permission to enter Oz and ask the Wizard for a way back to Kansas.  

There are two facts about visas that many people get confused:  the first is that a visa does not guarantee admission.  Just because a person has applied for and been granted a visa by a U.S. Consulate abroad, this does not require the border agents to admit her.  Admission is not guaranteed by a visa; border agents have the discretion to deny entry to travelers who request admission to the United States even if they have a valid visa.  However, this is rare:  the vast majority of visa holders are granted entry into the country.

The second fact about visas that many people misunderstand is that a visadoes not state how long the bearer may remain in the country.  In other words, the expiration date on a visa is not the date by which a person has to leave the United States.  This comes as quite a shock to many people, because practically everyone thinks that if you’re in the United States and your visa is about to expire, you have to leave the country before the expiration date.  But this is not necessarily so: the expiration date on a visa indicates that last date a person may approach a port of entry and request admission.   

To illustrate using a real life example:  a U.S. B-1/B-2 tourist visa is typically valid for ten years and allows multiple entries.   Moreover, tourists are usually granted from three to six months to remain in the country on any given entry.  So, if someone is visiting from overseas and has a multiple entry B-1/B-2 tourist visa valid for ten years, he or she will present this visa to the border agent,  who will ask the bearer the purpose of his stay.  “To visit Disney World then travel to California to see the Wine Country,” our tourist says.  The border agent, satisfied that all the documentation is in order, stamps the traveler’s passport with an entry stamp valid for six months.  Thus, the date by which the person must depart the United States is the entry stamp, not the visa.  The visa is valid for ten years, but the border agent permitted the traveler to remain for only six months, not ten years.   The entry stamp, also known as an I-94 Entry and Departure Record, is what a person  must consult if he or she wants to know the date by which he or she must leave the country.  While it is the case that the expiration date of a visa and the expiration date of an I-94 are often the same, they aren’t always the same, so it’s extremely important that visitors check their entry stamps to make sure of the date they have to depart the United States.  In addition to a stamp, entries into the United States are also recorded online so visitors can (and should) check the online system to make sure the expiration date recorded there matches what’s in their passport.  

Dorothy’s visit to Oz would have been much simpler if she had had a visa before traveling there.  And readers are well advised to consult their I-94 records when they travel to the United States so that they will know exactly how long they’re allowed to remain in this country.  And if there is any doubt or confusion, please let us know at the Law Office of Gregory J. Eck, LLC.  We can answer these and any other questions about immigration to the United States.  

World Cup Fever: Immigration Options for Star Athletes

 

On Sunday, July 15, 2018, France defeated Croatia 4-2 to take home the World Cup. It was a glorious victory for France, reveling in their first World Cup victory in twenty years. And Croatia, though not victorious, defeated mighty foes on their way to the finals, upsetting such worthy opponents as Denmark, host nation, Russia, and former World Cup winner, England. Since 1930, the World Cup has been played every four years to determine the top soccer team on the globe, except in the years 1942 and 1946 because of World War II. The World Cup, like the Olympic Games, is a sporting event to gather a fractious world and celebrate our common love of sporting competition.

The United States hosted the World Cup in 1994, the year five-time champion Brazil defeated Italy, but has yet to win a men’s soccer championship. Team USA has taken home the women’s World Cup three times: in 1991 (defeating Norway), 1999, in a stunning defeat over China, and 2015, defeating Japan 5-2. The next men’s tournament will take place in Qatar in 2022, and in 2026 the World Cup championship returns to North America, to be hosted jointly by the United States, Canada, and Mexico. Perhaps 2026 will be team USA’s year for victory.

The question naturally arises: how will several thousand professional athletes from around the world obtain entry into the United States to compete for the gold? As citizens of the United States we are often accustomed to visa-free international travel. American citizens are able to travel visa free to to enjoy a soccer match in Moscow, ascend the Eiffel Tower, or visit to the fabled Croatian city of Dubrovnik. But for most people around the world a visa is required to enter the United States, and for even the greatest soccer stars like Kylian Mbappé U.S. immigration law requires a visa to enter the country to compete in a professional match.

The U.S. immigration system for nonimmigrant (i.e. non-permanent) visas is structured according to the purpose of the visa applicant’s visit, and each such purpose is designated a letter according a particular subsection of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). Tourists for pleasure request a B1/B-2 visa; students enter on an F-1 visa. Kylian Mbappé and other professional athletes would apply for a P-1 visa. The P-1 classification applies to someone who is “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.” The criteria are fairly straightforward: The athlete must be coming to the United States to “participate in an individual event, competition or performance in which he is internationally recognized with a high level of achievement; evidenced by a degree of skill and recognition substantially above that ordinarily encountered so that the achievement is renowned, leading or well known in more than one country.” For players on a team, the athlete must be coming to the United States to “participate in team events and must have achieved significant international recognition in the sport. The event in which the team is participating must be distinguished and require the participation of athletic teams of international recognition.” The P-1 classification is designed precisely for professional athletes like Mr. Mbappé and others, and there will no doubt be many hundreds of P-1 soccer stars traveling to the U.S. in 2026. The duration of stay in P-1 status is for the duration of the competition for which the P-1 visa applicant is seeking the enter the U.S.

The P-1 visa is not the only option for an international soccer champion. What if the New York Red Bulls were to offer a position to Mr. Mbappé to play for them permanently? In this instance, the O-1 visa would be appropriate. The O-1 visa is a nonimmigrant visa for persons of extraordinary ability in the arts, sciences, business or athletics. An O-1 visa is valid for an initial period of three years, and is renewable in annualincrements thereafter.

For superstar athletes who wish to make the United States their home, it is possible to obtain permanent residence as an alien of extraordinary ability. Similar to the O-1, green card status for extraordinary athletes is based on evidence of sustained achievement in one’s field of endeavor. In addition, winning a single prize of international recognition, such as Olympic Gold, can be sufficient to be eligible for a green card as an extraordinary athlete.

Since the World Cup first came to the U.S. in 1994, Americans’ interest in soccer has gradually increased. The term “Soccer Mom” has entered into our common lexicon. Such interest in the world’s sport of soccer will hopefully translate into more victories for Team USA in future World Cup events, perhaps even leading to victory in 2026. For athletes and their fans from around the world traveling to this country for competition, U.S. immigration law provides options to make such competition possible.

The Law Office of Gregory J.Eck extends a warm congratulations to France, Croatia, and all the brave competitors at World Cup 2018. For any inquiries about U.S. visa options for future International sporting competition please reach out to us. And in the meantime, Vive la France!

Honduran TPS to be Terminated: Re-Register Now to Extend Benefits through January 2020

Current beneficiaries of Temporary Protected Status from Honduras are advised that if they want to maintain their status must re-register before  August 6, 2018. N Re-registration procedures, including how to renew employment authorization documents, have been published in the Federal Register and on uscis.gov/tps.  (Version español)

All applicants must submit Form I-821, Application for Temporary Protected Status. Applicants may also request an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) by submitting a completed Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, at the time of filing Form I-821, or separately at a later date. Both forms are free for download on USCIS’ website at uscis.gov/tps.

USCIS will issue new EADs with a January 5, 2020 expiration date to eligible Honduran TPS beneficiaries who timely re-register and apply for EADs. Given the timeframes involved with processing TPS re-registration applications, however, USCIS recognizes that not all re-registrants will receive new EADs before their current EADs expire. Accordingly, USCIS has automatically extended the expiration date on EADs issued under the TPS designation of Honduras for 180 days, through January 1, 2019. This automatic extension includes individuals who have EADs with an expiration date of January 5, 2018, and who applied for a new EAD during the last re-registration period but have not yet received their new EADs.

On May 4, 2018, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen M. Nielsen announced her determination that the statutory conditions supporting Honduras’ TPS designation on the basis of an environmental disaster are no longer met. Secretary Nielsen made her decision to terminate TPS for Honduras after reviewing country conditions and consulting with appropriate U.S. government agencies. To allow time for an orderly transition, she delayed the effective date of the termination by 18 months from the current expiration date of July 5, 2018. As a result of the delayed effective date, Honduras’ TPS designation will end on January 5, 2020.

Contact the Law Office of Gregory J. Eck to extend TPS benefits or consult about other options.