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International Athletes and NIL Profits

by michelle
Published: Updated:

Recap: International athletes, which make up 12% of NCAA D1 athletes, most likely will be excluded from NIL opportunities due to their visa. The F (or student) visa allows for them to work on campus, as well as other limited forms of income with prior approval, but any revenue from NIL doesn’t appear to fit into the limited guidelines. This issue seems to have flown under the radar as coaches, administrators, and even a government official admitted it was their first time considering the implications for international athletes. It seems that no one has the answer to exactly what permitted under the F-visa in regards to NIL.

Observations: I anticipate that this is one of many questions and predicaments that will come up over the next few years as the new rules settle and people start to understand this space better. There are so many elements to NIL that are beyond the flashy dollar signs. In regards to this issue, violating a visa is a serious offense and a risk that I don’t think many international athletes would be willing to take so unfortunately, they most likely will be sitting out of NIL opportunities until the government develops guidelines.

Robert Seiger, an immigration attorney who represents dozens of professional athletes, likes to joke that, with the possible exception of tax law, he’s got just about the most boring job in sports.

Perhaps that’s why Seiger’s particular niche in the sports world seems to have been completely overlooked as states rush to pass new laws allowing college athletes to profit from their name, image and likeness (NIL). The new laws, of which at least a half-dozen are set to take effect in July, provide a framework for domestic college athletes to make money from things like endorsements, autographs or hosting camps. However, international student-athletes, which account for about 12% of Division I athletes, according to the NCAA’s latest report, remain in a legal no man’s land, thanks to a caveat within the visa program that prevents anyone on an F (or student) visa from earning a substantial income while studying in the U.S.

“They’re essentially a student playing a sport, and they’re not being paid [now],” Seiger said. “If, through NIL, you go to a fan event and get compensated for autographs or get a sponsorship deal for your shoes, that’s real money, real compensation. So does that ultimately, from a labor and employment perspective, change their classification?”


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