Obtaining a Visa for Foreign Athletes

Obtaining a Visa for foreign athletes to compete in the United States has become a huge problem for agents and managers, especially under the current administration in Washington. The process can be difficult, arduous, and expensive.

Phil Stewart, race director of the Cherry Blossom 10 Mile Road Race in DC and site-owner/publisher of Road Race Management, reached out to Elite Runner Management recently and asked for ERM’s opinion and experiences on the issue for a story he was writing entitled “Foreign Athletes Struggle to Obtain Visas.” Several ERM quotes were used in the article. The story ran as the lead in a recent issue of Road Race Management.

My experience in dealing with the Department of Homeland Security and U.S Citizen and Immigration Services has been difficult, and I’m being polite. As I indicated to Phil, even under the best of circumstances, getting a P1 U.S. Visa is extremely difficult for foreign athletes, particularly those athletes coming from Africa. The process is tedious, takes months, and is complicated by the fact that you have almost no direct, personal contact with the government decision-maker who is processing the application and examining the supporting paperwork.  Frankly, the process has had a chilling effect on the ability of ERM to sign and then sponsor foreign athletes. It’s unfortunate because each year ERM receives a number of requests for representation from very talented long distance runners that have to be turned down, in part, because of the Visa issue. Unless the athlete is truly exceptional, like ERM’s Weldon Kirui who has won numerous long distance races including the 2016 Los Angeles Marathon, as a business matter it’s not worth the time, energy, and effort to tackle the process.

Unfortunately, there are many young athletes with great potential from countries like Kenya or Ethiopia whom ERM and other agencies would like to represent and bring to the U.S  to compete but who may never get the opportunity because of the Visa issue.

As an aside, I encourage you to read Phil’s full story. I highly recommend Phil’s website which is chalk full of important running issues and breaking news. I also recommend getting a subscription to Road Race Management’s newsletter which is mailed out to its subscribers and published 11 times per year.  It’s a great resource for athletes, coaches, agents, race directors, and road racing in general. Here is the link: www.rrm.com.

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