Petitioners that supported a whitehouse.gov petition to classify esports players as athletes have received an official response from the White House.
The petition was created in May in response to ongoing visa issues faced by William "Leffen" Hjelte, a Super Smash Bros. Melee player, who was initially declined a P1 athletic visa to play SSBM in the U.S. The petition eventually expanded in scope beyond the Smash Bros. community, receiving more than 100,000 signatures and meeting the requirement that guarantees a response from the White House.
The White House's response clarifies that esports athletes are eligible for P1 visas under current U.S. law, and that the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service has "no current policy categorically precluding an eSport from being recognized as a qualifying athletic competition." It points out that P1 visas have been granted to esports professionals in the past. However, it also says that individual cases under review are subject to the jurisdiction of the USCIS, and the White House cannot intervene to change USCIS policy or grant specific P1 visas.
According to the White House's response, Leffen's denial does not represent a broader policy within the department. "USCIS may request additional information when there is not enough documentation or evidence to establish eligibility for the requested classification," it says. "Given this case-by-case adjudication, a particular denial or approval does not necessarily represent a broader policy interpretation or change."
Leffen did receive his P1 visa in early May, shortly before the petition reached its goal, but as the White House response states, "Every case, regardless of what sport it involves, is different and is reviewed on its own merits."
Annabelle "Abelle" Fischer is a writer for theScore esports with a love for Dota 2, birds and cheese. You can follow her on Twitter.