A popular immigration bill is bad news for US esports
“If you look at Overwatch League, it’s predominantly Korean teams,” Doi said. “It gets increasingly more difficult for players like CS:GO teams, they tend to be from Western Europe. A lot of the LCS players are from Canada. Even the Canadians — even though they’re North American players, they need a visa to come and compete in the United States. It’s not a good situation.”In the current scenario, US team owners can sign a player from another country and have a rough idea that they’ll be able to play in the US in the near future. If the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act becomes law, that timeline is shot. It would become untenable for many US organizations to sign foreign players, eliminating a rich talent pool for stateside teams.This assessment applies to unsigned players as well. Aside from the long-term, employment-based immigration path of EB-1 visas, one common way that foreign esports pros compete in the US is the P-1 athlete visa. US Citizenship and Immigration Services opened up the P-1 athlete visa to esports players in 2013, allowing recipients to live in the country for five years, with the possibility to extend for another five years.The process to receive this visa has become more strained over the past few years — more on that in just a moment.Other players, usually those in the country for a single tournament, can sometimes get by with a B1 or B2 travel visa, which grants entry for up to one year. Players from developing countries often need sponsorship from an established US company to secure a B1 or B2 visa, guaranteeing the player will return home when their stay is up.Esports pros are becoming intimately acquainted with the US immigration system, and groups like eFight Pass, a player-run program started by Street Fighter V pro Sherry “Sherryjenix” Nahn, are popping up. EFight Pass attempts to help competitors, many of whom hail from developing countries with strictly controlled immigration paths, to pay for visas and navigate the complicated approval process. The group has support from big-name players and companies like Capcom.Now back to those athlete visas. Organizations like eFight Pass are necessary as the US visa process has grown slower and more opaque. Doi has watched these past three years as approvals have dropped and previously insignificant roadblocks have turned into impassable walls. President Donald Trump has been clear about his intent to slow immigration, and that policy has touched even esports.”I hate getting so political about this, but it’s just the nature of what the industry is like right now,” Doi said.Visa issues have kept players and entire teams from competing in major tournaments, even before Trump took office. But, Doi said that since 2017, paperwork has taken longer and processes have stalled. She’s telling organizations to slow down and check with her before signing anyone.”The changes that I have seen in the past 10 years, basically effective once President Trump got into office and started taking this anti-immigrant position, is, I’ve been getting requests for additional evidence, and notices of intent to deny, and even denials on cases that would’ve just sailed through the bureaucratic process pre-Trump,” she said. “It’s really negatively impacting, first and foremost, the players.”This same process is unfolding in traditional sports as athletes attempt to secure the P-1 visa as well, Doi said.”I have colleagues who represent Major League Baseball players, professional boxers, world-class boxers and tennis players,” she said. “Across the board, they’re also having trouble. It’s not just esports.”However, there’s (at least) one extra roadblock in front of any professional gamer looking to play in the US. Many government employees still don’t understand what esports are.”For example, I just got a request for additional evidence, ‘Why does this person need to come to the United States to play when they’re playing an online game?'” Doi said. “Just really basic, basic questions like that, I need to go back and explain. That’s kind of the current situation. It’s getting harder to get visas.”The Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act is an attempt to smooth over the immigration process for a modern, global marketplace, and it does precisely what its name suggests. It makes the system numerically fair. However, for the people who were benefiting from country-specific queues, it represents a new challenge.Since passing the House, the bill has made its way to the Senate, where it faces a tougher challenge. It has to make it through committees and amendment discussions, and then go up for a vote. So far, S.386 has 35 senators onboard; passing it would require at least 51.”Let’s say it gets through those committees,” Doi said. “Then, it has to come for a vote. If it doesn’t get enough votes, then it’s dead. If it does get enough votes, then it has to make it to the White House. Again, who knows if President Trump will sign it depending on his mood that day? You know, it has to be a perfect storm of events for this to be approved.”Doi will have her eyes on the horizon until S.386 disappears, or becomes the new reality in esports immigration.Images: Riot Games (Team on stage); Robert Paul / Blizzard Entertainment (British fans); Edward M. Pio Roda (Confetti)
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