Visa requirements linked to hockey player’s early retirement

Complications stemming from the U.S. visa system might have cut hockey player Chad Starling’s career short.

On September 29, the Canadian-born Starling was turned back at the Saskatchewan-Montana border crossing in Sweetgrass while attempting to enter the United States to attend training camp, reported the San Bernardino Sun. The issue: He presented the border protection officer a letter confirming his B-1 visa status, but he actually needed a P-1 visa.

As the Sun explained, an athlete coming to the United States to try out for a team can enter with a B-1 visitor business visa, but athletes who have already signed a contract with a team need a P-1A internationally recognized athlete visa or an H-2 temporary work visa. Because Starling had already signed a contract with a California AA hockey team, the Sweetgrass guard denied him entry.

The Sweetgrass station’s public affairs liaison told the source there is no fee associated with B-1 visas for Candians, but there is a fee for P-1 visas. The Sun reported that the fee for a P-1 visa is $325, but the processing time for the visa typically takes months, so sports teams on a tight schedule usually pay a $1,225 fee for expedited processing.

According to the Sun, it’s standard practice for AA teams to issue B-1 visas, which limits costs incurred for players who might be cut during training camp, even if they have a contract.

Even though Starling’s P-1 visa was approved within two weeks of his attempted entry, events that unfolded during training camp – including injuries to other players and team lodging issues – led the team to cut him, the source reported. Starling told the Star he believes the visa confusion has resulted in his early retirement from hockey. The newspaper suggested a change in visa requirements for minor league athletes is warranted.

The U.S. Department of State caps the number of H-2 nonagricultural worker visas at 66,000 per year and caps P-1 visas at 25,000 per year.