Will Seattle Sounders' foreign players have their visas revoked? | KUOW News and Information

Will Seattle Sounders' foreign players have their visas revoked?

Mar 16, 2017

On Sunday, the Seattle Sounders were officially welcomed back to their home field for the first time after winning the championship last year.

The team may play under one championship banner now, but when they stand for the national anthem many players face a flag that is not their own.

The Sounders' captain is from Cuba, a star midfielder is from Uruguay, the goalie is Swiss. The Sounders also have players from Trinidad, Sweden and Panama.

None of those countries are covered by President Trump’s recent immigration order. But our national immigration debate is being felt in locker rooms around Major League Soccer.

Rex Andrew works in the applied physics lab at the University of Washington and is a big Sounders fan. He asked KUOW's Local Wonder whether any of the players were at risk because of Trump’s immigration initiatives.

Have your own question about our community you want a KUOW reporter to investigate? Submit it to Local Wonder at the bottom of this story.

To get started tackling that question, athlete’s use a visa called a P1 visa. They’re different from the H-1B visas that are popular in the tech industry and have been in the news a lot.  

Immigration lawyer Teddy Chadwick said landing an international player is similar to signing an American player, at least at the start. Once the Sounders find a player they want, they make contact and negotiate a contract.

After that’s settled, the club starts the immigration process by filing a petition with the immigration service. Normally that process takes about two weeks. Then the visa is sent to the U.S. consulate or embassy in the player’s country so that he can go there to interview and pick up the visa.

For now, Chadwick doesn’t think the Trump Administration is likely to put restrictions on P1 visas.

“Mostly because there’s not really an outcry of people who are afraid of a bunch of foreigners coming in and taking American athlete jobs,” he said.

None of the players on the Seattle Sounders hold nationality from the countries affected by Trump’s travel ban, so it’s unlikely their visas will be revoked, Chadwick said.

But the immigration upheaval could affect the team and the league as a whole in other ways.

“Most simply put its going to be a tremendous burden on the talent on the field, on the level of play. The MLS has built itself up in the last 10 or 15 years mostly via foreign talent. If you take all of that out of the league at once you damage the league severely,” said Steven Agen, founder of the soccer podcast Radio Cascadia.

Steve Clare, editor of the soccer website Prost Amerika, said recruiting foreign players could also be tougher going forward – not necessarily because of government regulations but because of a perception that “America at the moment is just not a pleasant place to be foreign in at the moment.”

Produced for the Web by Kara McDermott.