Politics and sports do not often cross paths in the United States. However, with the growth of the National Hockey League and the rising popularity of soccer, both sports that draw on athletic talent from outside of the United States, the immigration policies of the Trump administration are coming into increasingly frequent conflict with major league sports. The latest conflict involved the Buffalo Sabres from the National Hockey League and the United States Customs and Immigration Services.
In 2015, the Sabres hired a strength and conditioning coach who was born in Great Britain. Prior to being hired by the Sabres, the coach had worked for 10 years for a professional rugby club in England. In October 2019, the Sabres filed an application on the coach’s behalf for a permanent EB-1 visa, commonly known as the “Einstein Visa.” To obtain this type of green card, the Sabres and the coach were required to demonstrate that the coach was widely regarded as a leader in his field. Contrary to the Sabres’ expectations, the USCIS denied the application.
The Sabres sued the USCIS in federal district court in Buffalo in May 2020, claiming that the USCIS had violated its own regulations in reviewing and denying the visa application. The denial of the Sabres’ petition appeared to be part of an effort by the Trump administration to slow down the application process for green card approval.
The team and the USCIS recently announced that the law suit had been settled. According to a text message issued by the Sabres, the parties settled their differences amicably, and a permanent EB-1 visa has been issued to the Sabres’ coach.
The visa applicant in this case had the significant advantage of being backed by a wealthy professional hockey team. Not all visa applicants are so fortunate. Many visa seekers must hire and pay their own attorneys. Nevertheless, persons who have applied for any type of permanent visa may wish to consult an experienced immigration attorney if the USCIS appears to be “slow walking” their application or taking other steps to raise barriers to permanent immigration.