When Columbus Crew SC added Designated Player Pedro Santos last week, there was one question on everyone’s mind: when will we see Santos in the lineup for Crew SC?
Usually, manager Gregg Berhalter will suggest that a new player needs to improve their fitness or learn the team’s system before being plugged into the lineup, but in the case of Santos, Berhalter suggested that the process for obtaining a visa was still underway.
Berhalter said he expects Pedro's visa to take weeks (plural) to arrive. Said it would be hard for it to be in by Saturday's game. #CrewSC— Patrick Murphy (@_Pat_Murphy) August 8, 2017
This sounds confusing, and complicated, so what exactly is a P1 Visa and how do players and teams go about acquiring them?
What is a P1 Visa?
A P1 Visa (the term “P Visa” comes from the visa being listed in section p of the establishing statute) is a visa (a document that permits entry into the United States) that allows foreign athletes and entertainers to live and work in the U.S.
In the case of Major League Soccer signings, P1 Visas are available to “internationally recognized” players who have signed a contract with an MLS team. To be considered an “internationally recognized” athlete, you must meet two of the following criteria:
- Participated to a significant extent in a prior season with a major United States sports league
- Participated to a significant extent in international competition with a national team
- Participated to a significant extent in a prior season for a U.S. college or university in intercollegiate competition
- A written statement from an official of a major U.S. sports league or an official of the governing body of the sport which details how you or your team is internationally recognized
- A written statement from a member of the sports media or a recognized expert in the sport which details how you or your team is internationally recognized
- Evidence that you or your team is ranked, if the sport has international rankings
- Evidence that you or your team has received a significant honor or award in the sport
For most coming to MLS, players may need some sort of documentation from an MLS official or a “recognized expert” in the field in order to meet two of the qualifications.
A P1 Visa is valid for the length of the athlete’s contract up to five years.
How does an MLS signee obtain a P1 Visa?
First, the player and his team file immigration form I-129, and include a copy of the contract and the expected duration of the player’s term in the U.S.
Then, the player and the team must submit evidence to prove one that the player fits into one of the two categories that are listed above.
After all of this paperwork is submitted, the player and the team then wait for the visa to be approved. While these are typically approved for MLS players, it is not unheard of for a P1 Visa petition to be rejected.
The paperwork is filed, now what?
Then . . . wait. A P1 Visa will typically be processed within two to eight weeks. However, for an additional fee of $1,225, the team or player can get “Premium Processing” on the visa. With Premium Processing, the visa decision will be completed within 15 days.
What happens after the P1 Visa is approved?
Once the P1 Visa petition is approved, the player must then apply for the visa at a U.S. consulate or embassy. These locations are outside of the United States, so it may be necessary for the player to leave the U.S. to visit one of these locations and then re-enter.
Conveniently, Pedro Santos posted an Instagram story from Toronto on August 14, 2017.
What if the P1 Visa petition is rejected?
If the player’s P1 Visa petition is rejected, he or she may appeal the rejection to the Administrative Appeals Office within the Department of Homeland Security.
What happens if a player is traded or a new contract is signed?
A P1 Visa may be extended up to 10 years. With an extension or with a new employer, the player and the team (or new team) will file another I-129.
So, when will Pedro Santos’s visa be approved?
Assuming Crew SC filed for Premium Processing, and as long as the petition isn’t rejected, Santos’s petition should be approved within 15 days of Columbus filing. The fact that Santos was in Toronto on August 14, 2017 suggests that he may have already been approved.