White House Petition Response On Esports Team Visas Fails To Resolve The Issue

Posted By Joss Wood on June 28, 2016 - Last Updated on January 22, 2018

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The White House has responded to a petition signed by 117,677 people which asked that “The USCIS Should Recognize All Esports As ‘Legitimate’ Sports So International Players Can Come to the US on P1 Visas.”

The petition was raised after William “Leffen” Hjelte was deported from the U.S. on the grounds that he only had a tourist visa while being sponsored to play Super Smash Bros by an American company.

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), determined that he needed a work visa. Hjelte had originally applied for the P1 Visa used by professional athletes, but the USCIS did not recognize playing Super Smash Bros. Melee as a “legitimate” sport.

The White House declined to address the issue

Unfortunately the White House said that it would not get involved in the matter, but the extra information it provided made it clear that this was not a policy statement. The White House explained that:

“We decline to address such matters that are properly within the jurisdiction of federal departments or agencies — in this case, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), a component of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS).”

However, it added that because immigration issues are decided by “case-by-case adjudication, a particular denial or approval does not necessarily represent a broader policy interpretation or change.”

The response pointed out that other esports players have been granted P1 visas, notably to play in League of Legends competitions. The concern now is whether the USCIS is going to restrict visas only to the biggest esports games.

Definitions of sports athletes matter

One of the factors which the Nevada Gaming Policy Committee considered in its deliberations over whether betting should be allowed on esports, was the extent to which the games were legitimate athletic contests.

The committee heard from esports athlete, Johnathan “Fatal1ty” Wendel, and was favorably impressed as he explained how his training routine matched that of other mainstream sports. His testimony predisposed the committee to accepting that esports could be considered to come under the legal definition of sports.

In the Nevada regulations, the Nevada Gaming Control Board can authorize betting on sporting contests. If esports is a sport, then the existing regulations will suffice, at least for the broader approvals, and no new legislation will be required to authorize esports betting more widely.

The Policy Committee chairman, Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval, specifically mentioned the fact that the USCIS had approved professional athlete visas for esports players.

The full response from the White House can be found here.

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Joss Wood

Joss Wood holds an English degree from the University of Birmingham and also earned a master’s degree in organizational development from the University of Manchester. Joss has a special focus on the international online gambling market, though he also writes extensively on US regulated markets, sports betting, and esports betting.

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