US visa policies for Esports competitors are hard enough right now and aren’t about to be making life easier anytime soon it appears. This comes as the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service decline any changes in policy regarding esports athletes, after responding to a petition to Free Leffen.
This has all come about due to a petition regarding Smash Bros competitor Leffen (William Hjelte) and his failed attempt to gain a visa to compete in US esports competitions. He requested a P-1A visa which is for “Internationally recognised athletes” to enter the US on a temporary basis in order to “perform at a specific athletic competition as an athlete individually or as part of an group or team”. His appeal for a second however, was approved in May.
One thing is clear through all of this though. An esports competitor appears to not have the same level of consideration when applying for visas as a traditional athlete. This obviously has incensed a lot of people when you consider just how large the esports fan base is. Some esports competitions pull in more viewers than sports on the TV with prize pools well into the millions of dollars and with Russia now recognising esports as an official sport, why does one of the largest hubs for competitive gaming appear to not do the same?
However, nothing in the rules specifically excludes esports competitors from being recognised as athletes. It does come down to the individual both applying for and approving the visa. This is shown by the fact Leffen’s appeal was approved. The White House did announce;
“USCIS has approved P-1 visa petitions for athletes seeking to enter the United States to compete in esport events”.
For some people though it seems the White House has “missed the point”. Bryce Blum is an American lawyer who specialises in esports. He found the ruling to be both “predictable and disappointing.” He went on to tweet his thoughts about the ruling stating that other athletes don’t face the same biases. The case by case ruling can prove to be fickle and a little flaky as the successful appeal went some way to showing.
Blum made the comparison between tennis and esports stating;
“Even if the consular officer doesn’t watch tennis, they won’t challenge its status.”
He believes that the only way to stop this happening again is to include specific clauses and rules regarding esports visa applications in the future.
Leffen will be able to compete at Evo this year now his visa is approved so it will be good to see him there. Also worth noting, USCIS did not make any specific mention towards Leffen in it’s address regarding the petition. Instead talking broadly about the visa issue in general.
You can check out the official petition page and response here.