Divorce in New Jersey: The Basics

The decision to seek a divorce is extremely personal and often very painful, especially when there are children involved.  Sometimes the divorce process itself can add to the stress because it can be confusing, with lots of paperwork and rules to follow. In a very basic, uncontested divorce action, the parties often are able to manage the paperwork themselves. The courts of New Jersey have made the rules and forms available for those who wish to do so.  

Every state in the USA has its own rules for divorce.  In New Jersey, divorce is called “Dissolution.” There are several steps and you have to file a lot of papers with the court.  Even though the process for getting a divorce is fairly straightforward, it can get complicated and it’s extremely important to follow each step carefully.  

Who can file?

Either partner in a marriage can file for divorce in New Jersey as long as at least one member of the couple lives in the state. 

Grounds for Divorce

In New Jersey, you must state a reason for the divorce that is recognized by New Jersey law (called “grounds” for divorce):

1.  No Fault.   Most divorces are “No-Fault” divorces based on “Irreconcilable Differences”:  To file for divorce based on irreconcilable differences, you must meet the following requirements:

  • You or your spouse must have lived in New Jersey for 12 consecutive months before filing for divorce;
  • You or your spouse must have experienced irreconcilable differences for 6 months, and;
  • The irreconcilable differences are a reason that the marriage, civil union or domestic partnership should be dissolved; and
  • You are certain there is no way to reconcile.

In New Jersey, there is no need to accuse the other spouse of doing anything wrong when filing based on irreconcilable differences. In fact, making accusations of adultery or other “wrongdoing” will not affect the outcome of the divorce or improve your chances of getting more child support, alimony, or other financial arrangements.

2.  Separation: To file for divorce based on separation, the couple must have been living apart for at least 18 months.

3.  Extreme Cruelty: To file on the grounds of extreme cruelty requires proof of certain factors.  Divorce based on extreme cruelty is complicated and painful, and it is advised that you consult an attorney to see if this applies to your case.

4. Other grounds: Other “fault” grounds for divorce include adultery, institutionalization, and incarceration for an extended period.  

Uncontested Divorce

Uncontested divorces are those in which both spouses agree that they want to dissolve their marriage.

Contested Divorce

Contested divorce. If, on the other hand, the spouses disagree on certain things, like custody, child support, alimony, marital property, etc. then the divorce is considered contested.  The process for a contested divorce is complicated, and, we recommend that you have a lawyer to assist you.  In contested divorces the court will schedule conferences and other events to help the couple resolve disputed matters before a divorce order is entered by a judge.

Do I Need a Lawyer to File for Divorce?

The decision to file for divorce is a difficult one, and having to work through the legal process on your own makes it even more difficult. For this reason, it is a good idea to seek legal counsel if you are considering pursuing a divorce or if you have been served with a divorce complaint.   Contact the Law Office of Gregory J. Eck for more information.  

Out from the Shadows: Green Cards for Victims of Criminal Activity

By: Gregory J. Eck

Victims of Domestic Violence may be eligible for a green card

Many immigrants are not aware that victims of crime may eligible for a U visa and a green card. I spoke with a client recently who had been subject to physical and verbal abuse by her estranged husband. She was able to obtain an order of protection for both herself and their two children, which is welcome and important for her safety and that of her children. However, my client, an undocumented immigrant, was unaware of the additional benefit of the U visa. Created by Congress in 2000, the U visa is available for victims of certain crimes who have suffered mental or physical abuse and are helpful to law enforcement or government officials in the investigation or prosecution of criminal activity. The legislation was intended to strengthen the ability of law enforcement agencies to investigate and prosecute cases of domestic violence, sexual assault, trafficking of noncitizens and other crimes, while also protecting victims of crimes who have suffered substantial mental or physical abuse due to the crime and are willing to help law enforcement authorities in the investigation or prosecution of the criminal activity. The legislation also helps law enforcement agencies to better serve victims of crimes.

In order to qualify for a U visa, you must 

  • Be the victim of one of several crimes listed in the law.
  • Have suffered physical or mental abuse as a result of that crime.
  • Be willing to cooperate with the authorities regarding that crime.
  • Have information regarding the crime which you are willing to share with law enforcement. If you are under 16 years old, you may have a family member or guardian share the information for you.
  • Be admissible as a non-immigrant in the U.S. “Admissible” is a specific legal term and means that there are no bars to your eligibility for a non-immigrant visa.  Such things might include a criminal record, prior history of immigration violations, or other issues.
  • If you are inadmissible, you’ll need to file an application for a waiver. If this application is approved, the inadmissibility will be waived. 

Can I work with a U visa?

Yes, but it’s complicated. Before June 2021, an applicant had to wait until her U visa was approved  before she could get an employment authorization document (EAD).  Sometimes this process could take up to five years or more.  However, in June 2021, USCIS updated its policy guidelines and now, once once USCIS determines that a U visa petition is bona fide – that is, “made in good faith; without fraud or deceit,” they will issue an EAD, allowing you to work and remain in the  United States while your U visa application is pending. 

Can I get a Green Card?

Yes, but there are certain conditions.   If you already have a U visa, to qualify for a green card you must:

  • Be in U status for at least three years.
  • have been continuously physically present in the U.S. for three years or more.
  • Continue to cooperate with authorities in prosecuting the crime against you.
  • Be otherwise eligible for permanent residence.

What Now?

If you are the victim of a crime, including domestic violence, and think you may be eligible for a U visa, you should contact a qualified immigration lawyer who can assist you with this process.   Like most things involving immigration, it can be complicated and confusing.  The Law Office of Gregory J. Eck, LLC can assist you with this process.  Contact us to get answers about this or any other immigration question you might have. 

How Do I Become a U.S. Citizen?

I get this question all the time from many different people,  both U.S. citizens, visitors from abroad, permanent residents, even strangers on a plane.    Here is my three minute elevator speech, which you can read, study, and share with others, on how to become a U.S Citizen:

A person can become a U.S. citizen in a few different ways:

  • By being born in the United States;  
  • By being born outside the United States to U.S. citizen parents;
  • By applying for citizenship through a process called “naturalization.”    

This article focuses on the third of these three options.  If you have a question about the first two, i.e. birth in the U.S. or birth to parents who are U.S. citizens, you should contact an immigration lawyer to get the whole picture.  

The process for becoming a U.S. citizen for people who weren’t born in this country is called, “naturalization.”  

Generally speaking, to be eligible for citizenship, you must:

  • Be 18 years of age or older; Be at least 18 years of age;
  • Be a permanent resident for a certain amount of time (usually 5 years or 3 years, depending on whether you got your green card through work or marriage); 
  • Have a period of continuous residence and physical presence in the United States;
  • Be a person of “good moral character”;
  • Be able to read, write, and speak basic English; and,
  • Understand U.S. government and history (there’s an English and civics test at the citizenship interview).

Exceptions for Becoming a U.S. Citizen

There are exceptions to these rules to account for many variations in people’s circumstances. For instance, you may not be required to take the civics or English test if you are a certain age or if you  are unable to study for the test due to a disability. 

There are also certain timing exceptions if you are in the U.S. military or are married to a U.S. citizen who is.  

What Should You Do if You Want to Become a Citizen?

If you meet, or believe you meet, the above requirements, you should contact an immigration lawyer to help with the application.  And if you think you don’t meet the above requirements because, for example, you were arrested for shoplifting when you were sixteen, or entered the U.S. illegally and have since married a U.S. citizen, or maybe you got your green card but then returned to your home country for a while, you should still contact an immigration lawyer, because there are exceptions to many of the rules about this process.  The United States is glad to help people become citizens and will make an exception in certain circumstances to make this possible.  Also, the process can be more complicated than you think, and you can save yourself a lot of time and worry by working with a good immigration lawyer through this process.  Contact the Law Office of Gregory J. Eck if you have any questions. 

FY 2023 H-1B Cap Season Opens March 1

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has announced that the initial registration period for the fiscal year 2023 H-1B cap will open at noon Eastern on March 1, 2022 and run through noon

Eastern Time on March 18, 2022. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced that the initial registration period for the fiscal year 2023 H-1B cap will open at noon Eastern on March 1, 2022 . The registration period will run through noon Eastern Time on March 18, 2022. During this period, petitioners will be able to complete and submit their registrations using an online H-1B registration system.

Prospective H-1B cap-subject petitioners must use a myUSCIS online account to register each beneficiary electronically and pay a $10 H-1B registration fee. Registrants will be able to create new accounts beginning at noon Eastern on Feb. 21.

If USCIS receives enough registrations by March 18, the agency will randomly select registrations and send selection notifications via users’ myUSCIS online accounts. USCIS expects to notify account holders by March 31.

An H-1B cap-subject petition, including a petition for a beneficiary who is eligible for the advanced degree exemption, may only be filed by a petitioner whose registration for the beneficiary named in the H-1B petition was selected in the H-1B registration process.

Predictions: USCIS selected 7% fewer registrations in 2021 (for FY2022) than they had in 2020 (for FY 2021). Experts predict this trend will continue. Also, USCIS has run two lotteries for the last two years. The split between the two rounds in 2020 (FY 2021) was 85% (lottery 1) and 15% (lottery 2), while it was 75% and 25% respectively in 2021 (FY 2022). Given the fact that the agency picked a higher number of registrations in 2021’s second lottery, experts suggest that this trend will continue into FY2023 as well.

Follow us here for updates on the H-1B process. And, as always, contact the Law Office of Gregory J. Eck, LLC for any questions about this or any other legal matter.

Is DACA Still Available?

Many readers may be confused about whether or not DACA is still available.   On September 5, 2017, the Trump administration cancelled the DACA program, but almost immediately various parties sued in Federal Court and USCIS was ordered to resume accepting DACA renewals.  As a result, the current status of the DACA program is as follows:  Anyone who has or has had DACA can continue to renew their DACA. Those who have never had DACA are not eligible for DACA now.   

President Barack Obama launched Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) in June 2012, to provide a reprieve from deportation to young people who came to the United States as children. Though DACA does not provide official legal status or a pathway to citizenship, it does allow them to be “lawfully present” without the threat of deportation.  Recipients receive work authorization and may also apply for driver’s licenses.  

The fate of the DACA program will probably be decided by the Supreme Court, but in the meantime current DACA recipients are eligible to renew their DACA work authorization.  The following provides helpful guidance for DACA recipients wondering whether or not to apply to renew and when:

  • If your DACA expires within the next 150 days, you should apply to renew ASAP.
  • If your DACA expires between 151-365 days from now, you can apply to renew, but keep in mind that USCIS may not accept your application, since it is more than 150 days in advance.  Experts have indicated that these applicants are likely to have their applications adjudicated despite having an expiration date that far into the future.
  • If your DACA expires more than a year from now, we do not advise submitting a renewal application, since it is likely that USCIS will reject your application.  
  • If your DACA expired more than a year ago, you will need to submit your renewal as an initial DACA application with all the documents needed to prove initial eligibility for DACA. You  should apply to renew ASAP.

Contact the Law Office of Gregory J. Eck for help with DACA renewal applications or any other immigration matter. 

New Jersey May Become the 13th State to Issue Drivers Licenses to Undocumented Immigrants

Legislation has been introduced in both chambers of the New Jersey State Legislature that would grant driving privileges to undocumented aliens residing in the state. Governor Phil Murphy supports the legislation and the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission has begun preparing to enact the measure if and when the bill is signed into law.  

The New Jersey Safe and Responsible Driver Act requires the production of proof of identity and of residence in New Jersey.  The bill also requires that all persons issued a drivers license under these provisions carry automobile insurance.  Moreover, drivers licenses issued under the Act will bear the words, “This license is issued only as a license to drive a motor vehicle. It does not establish eligibility for employment, voter registration, or public benefits,” making it clear that the document is for driving privileges only in the State of New Jersey.  The bill addresses concerns related to privacy and potential negative immigration consequences, stating that the “information provided by the license holder is not to be considered a public record and is not to be disclosed to any federal, State, or local governmental entity without probable cause or a valid warrant. The bill also provides that a driver’s license issued under the provisions of the bill is not to be considered evidence of an individual’s citizenship or immigration status and is not to be used as a basis for an investigation, arrest,  citation, or detention.” (emphasis added).

Those who support the measure say it will increase road safety because new licensed drivers will have to pass a drivers test and be insured.  They argue that undocumented immigrants drive anyway, only without a license, which increases the danger to themselves and fellow drivers.  

If the Act passes New Jersey will join California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia in issuing drivers licenses to undocumented immigrants.  For more information about the New Jersey Safe and Responsible Driver Act or other benefits for immigrants in New Jersey, contact the Law Office of Gregory J. Eck, Esq. 

Temporary Protected Status (TPS): What is it and Who’s Eligible?

On August 14, 2018  U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that current beneficiaries of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) from Yemen who want to maintain their status through the extension date of March 3, 2020, must re-register between August 14, 2018, and October  15, 2018.  Re-registration procedures, including forms and instructions on how to renew employment authorization documents (EADs), are available at www.uscis.gov/tps.   USCIS will issue new EADs with a March 3, 2020, expiration date to eligible Yemen TPS beneficiaries who timely re-register and apply for EADs. Given the timeframes involved with processing TPS re-registration applications, however, the government  recognizes that not all re-registrants will receive new EADs before their current EADs expire on Sept. 3, 2018. Accordingly, USCIS has automatically extended the validity of EADs for 180 days, through March 2, 2019.

This raises the question:  What is Temporary Protected Status, or TPS?  Under U.S. immigration law, the Secretary of Homeland Security may designate a foreign country for TPS due to conditions in the country that temporarily prevent the country’s nationals from returning safely, or in certain circumstances, where the country is unable to handle the return of its nationals adequately.  USCIS may grant TPS to eligible nationals of certain countries (or parts of countries), who are already in the United States.  Eligible individuals without nationality who last resided in the designated country may also be granted TPS.

Some of the conditions that may give rise to a TPS designation include: 

  • Ongoing armed conflict, such as the civil war in Syria; 
  • An environmental disaster, such as the earthquake in Haiti or the hurricane in Honduras; or 
  • an epidemic or other extraordinary condition. 

During a designated period, individuals who are TPS beneficiaries enjoy the following benefits:

  • They are not removable (deportable) from the United States;
  • They can obtain an employment authorization document (EAD);
  • They may be granted travel authorization; and
  • Once granted TPS, an individual also cannot be detained by DHS on the basis of his or her immigration status in the United States.

It’s important to remember that TPS is a temporary benefit, a reprieve from having to return to one’s home country until conditions there improve.    It does not make someone eligible for a green card or bestow any other immigration status.  But also, registration for TPS does not prevent someone from applying for some kind of immigration  status, such as an F-1 student visa, or filing for adjustment of status based on an immigrant petition.   So, if someone is present in the US on TPS and marries a US citizen, then the TPS beneficiary may be able to adjust status to permanent resident.  However, as with all immigration benefits, one must still meet all the eligibility requirements for that particular benefit.   A grant of TPS does not, for instance, render someone eligible for a green card if he entered the United States illegally or who is ineligible for adjustment of status on the basis of fraud or some criminal matter.  

Nationals from the following countries have been designated eligible  for TPS:

  • El Salvador
  • Haiti
  • Honduras
  • Nepal
  • Nicaragua
  • Somalia
  • Sudan
  • South Sudan
  • Syria
  • Yemen

Precise filing deadlines and other issues pertain to each of these countries, so if you believe you may be eligible for TPS it’s important to confirm what specific rules apply to your own country.  For example, Honduras’s TPS designation is set to expire on January 5, 2020, whereas, as noted above, TPS for Yemen will remain in effect until such time as USCIS determines that temporary conditions that support Yemen’s current designation for TPS no longer exist.

If you or a loved one believe you may be eligible for TPS designation based on your citizenship of one of the above countries, contact the Law Office of Gregory J. Eck, LLC to learn more.  

Alternatives to EB-5 Investor Program for China and Vietnam

The EB-5 program has been of enormous benefit to the U.S. economy and to foreign investors seeking permanent residence in the United States.  Under the EB-5 program entrepreneurs are eligible to apply for a green card (permanent residence) if they make the necessary investment in a commercial enterprise in the United States and can show that the investment generates ten or more permanent full-time jobs for U.S. workers.  Since the program’s creation, thousands of foreign investors and their families have been able to become permanent residents and citizens of the United States.  

In recent years, however, two major obstacles have arisen for entrepreneurs who would like to immigrate to this country under the EB-5 program:  (1) the massive volume of applications from China and Vietnam has created a back-log of applications from those countries, so that now the current wait time for an EB-5 immigrant visa to become available is around four years; and (2) Congress continues to throw the program’s very existence into doubt, as varying voices on both sides of the aisle call for increases to the required minimum investment amount and tighter controls on types of investments permitted, while still others seek to cancel the program altogether.  As of the time of writing, the EB-5 program is funded through September 30, 2018, but congressional action will be required to extend the program past that date. 

In this period of extremely  long wait times and the possible abolition of the EB-5 program, are there any alternatives for foreign investors to getting a green card in the United States?  Fortunately, the answer is yes.  Below are four options we urge our readers to consider: 

  1. EB-1:  This category of immigrant visa is reserved for someone who is:
    • A person of extraordinary ability in his or her field of endeavor;
    • An outstanding professor or researcher;  or
    • A multinational manager or executive.  This third sub-category could be especially appealing for foreign entrepreneurs who already manage or direct their own businesses abroad, because they qualify if they have been employed in a managerial or executive capacity outside the United States for at least one year in the three years immediately preceding the petition.   There is no minimal investment, but the petitioning employer must be a U.S. employer.   
  1. EB-2 National Interest Waiver

Foreign investors seeking a national interest waiver are able to bypass (or waiver) the lengthy and cumbersome labor certification process and receive a green card if they can demonstrate that they have “exceptional ability” based on certain criteria and whose employment in the United States would greatly benefit the nation.  One great advantage of the NIW immigrant visa category is that applicants do not need a US employer to sponsor them:  they can self-petition.   NIW applicants must document (among other things) at least 10 years of full-time experience in ones occupation. 

  1. L1-A Intra-company Manager/Executive Transfer

The L-1A visa is a nonimmigrant visa, i.e. not a green card, for multinational managers or executives transferring to the United States to work for a U.S. employer with a qualifying relationship with the beneficiary’s foreign employer.   There must be a U.S. employer to sponsor the beneficiary, who must have worked in a managerial or executive capacity for the foreign entity for at least one full year in the previous three years preceding the application.   The L-1A visa holder can later be sponsored for permanent residence by his or her U.S. employer as an EB-1 Multinational Executive or Manager.   This is an attractive option for many U.S. employers who, for a host of business reasons, may wish to wait for a period of time before sponsoring someone for a green card.   The L-1A is also attractive for a foreign entrepreneur who has been directing a foreign enterprise and wishes to start a U.S. company, which can later serve as the L-1A sponsoring employer.  There are risks associated with this approach, however, and consultation with a wise immigration attorney is highly recommended. 

  1. E-2 Treaty Investor

The E-2 nonimmigrant classification allows a national of a treaty country (a country with which the United States maintains a treaty of commerce and navigation) to receive a nonimmigrant visa to the United States when investing a substantial amount of capital in a U.S. business.  Certain employees of such a person or of a qualifying organization may also be eligible for this classification.   To qualify for this visa, the investor must be a national of a country with which the United States maintains a treaty of commerce and navigation; have invested, or be actively in the process of investing, a substantial amount of capital in a bona fide enterprise in the United States; and, be seeking to enter the United States solely to develop and direct the investment enterprise.   Unlike the EB-5 program, there is no minimum investment amount, but the investment  must be sufficient to ensure the treaty investor’s financial commitment to the successful operation of the enterprise and of a magnitude to support the likelihood that the treaty investor will successfully develop and direct the enterprise.   As with the L-1A visa, an E-2 visa holder may later seek permanent residence under the EB-1 Multinational Executive/Manager program, so long as the requirements are met, i.e. the beneficiary was employed in a managerial or executive capacity by a foreign entity for at least one full year in the three years immediately preceding the E-2 application.  The E-2 option is particularly appealing for many foreign investors who may not have the minimum investment amount to qualify for the EB-5 program.   

   Unfortunately,  investors from China, Vietnam, or India are not eligible for E-2 classification because these countries do not have a treaty of commerce and navigation with the United States.  However, there are creative solutions to this problem:  many citizens of these countries who seek E-2 classification to the United States take advantage of the generous citizenship laws of countries like Grenada or Panama, which both have E-2 treaties with the United States.  By becoming a citizen of one of these countries, the applicant can then seek E-2 classification in the United States and then apply for permanent residence later.  This process takes longer, but is an appealing option for Chinese and Vietnamese investors who cannot benefit from the EB-5 program due to visa retrogression.  

The EB-5 program remains a strong and attractive option for foreign investors seeking to immigrate to the United States.  However, for persons from China and Vietnam, the EB-5 program is not currently available, so the challenge is to find creative options that will achieve the same goal:  a green card.  This blog post has described some of these options.  Contact the Law Office of Gregory J. Eck to find out more.  

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!