White House esports petition hits 100,000 signatures, ensuring official response

by Josh Bury May 24 2016
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A petition to classify esports players as athletes in order to allow them to qualify for athlete visas has hit the 100,000-signature requirement that guarantees a response from the White House.

The petition calls on the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services to provide P1-A "Internationally Recognized Athlete" visas to esports players travelling to the United States to compete in events.

All petitions which hit the 100,000-signature goal are guaranteed to receive a response from the White House within 60 days, though there is no requirement for them to actually take action on the issue.

The USCIS lists the full requirements for the visa on their website, but a section of that page expands on what it means to be "internationally recognized:"

You must be coming to the United States to participate in individual event, competition or performance in which you are internationally recognized with a high level of achievement; evidenced by a degree of skill and recognition substantially above that ordinarily encountered so that the achievement is renowned, leading or well known in more than one country.

Though the petition initially grew out of visa issues encountered by professional Super Smash Bros. Melee player William "Leffen" Hjelte, it has since received support from a number of other esports communities.

Esports has long had issues with visa problems. As just the latest example, Chinese CS:GO squad Tyloo said they may have to drop out of ELEAGUE this morning as a result of being unable to secure U.S. visas. It's not even the first time this month they've had to forfeit a tournament — on May 3, they announced they would have to gave up their spot at the SL i-League Invitational in Ukraine, also because they couldn't secure visas.

Though visa problems extend beyond the United States, a response to the petition could be a strong signal to immigration agencies worldwide that esports are a legitimate reason for travel.

Some other countries have already started to do so: Japan granted athlete visas to a pair of South Korean League of Legends players in March 2016, while a French government report which explored options for regulating the esports industry stressed the need for a solution to endemic visa problems.

Josh "Gauntlet" Bury is internationally recognized for his ability to meme, but he doesn't qualify for a P1-A visa. You can find him on Twitter.