Afghan Water Polo Players Denied Visas, but Continue to Train

A water polo team assembled in the seemingly least likely of places, Afghanistan, suffered a defeat last month when the U.S. Embassy in Kabul denied visas to team members to come to California for training. The team plans to continue training at home, and they will be getting assistance from American and German coaches, who plan to go there in May to train the players and recruit new ones. Supporters of the team hope that, over time, U.S. immigration officials may be persuaded to grant visas to the players.

The water polo team is the brainchild of Marine Warrant Officer Jeremy Piasecki, who both played and coached the sport in California. He held tryouts for a team in 2008 when he discovered an abandoned swimming pool at an Afghan military base near Kabul. He recruited from the Afghan army, and after some training he has built up a team of several dozen players. Several years of fundraising led to their request for visas to spend three months training in the U.S. The team faced difficulties beyond training and fundraising. Three players died in combat, and another stepped on a land mine while guarding the pool. The entire country reportedly only has thirteen swimming pools.

The team had hoped to arrive in southern California on Christmas day. The U.S. Embassy, however, denied their visa applications in mid-December, citing concerns that the players would not leave when the visas expired and would remain in the country illegally. Media coverage does not specify which type of visa the players sought. The embassy did grant a visa to the one female player, who will learn about coaching and train with women’s college players. Her plan is to return home to form Afghanistan’s first national women’s team.

Since the men’s team cannot come to the United States to train, the trainers are going to them. The team announced in mid-January that it would send a group of coaches from the United States and Germany to Afghanistan from May through July. They will work with the current team, recruit new players for the team, and work on building a new “grass roots water polo team” in Kabul. Team leaders hope that this approach will convince U.S, officials of team members’ intentions, and that they will therefore grant a future visa request.

Officials at U.S. embassies abroad generally have broad discretion in deciding whether to grant visas. Athletes seeking to come to the U.S. for a competition may apply for a P-1 visa, but that requires that the athlete or team have “international recognition,” which usually means widespread fame. While the Afghan water polo team has certainly earned international attention, they may not have achieved the type of recognition contemplated by the P-1 visa. They may have applied instead for a B-1 visa, used for business travelers coming to the U.S. for a specific purpose. A key factor in qualifying for any of these visas, known as “nonimmigrant” visas, is a clear intent to return to the country of origin when the visa expires.

Ohio immigration visa lawyer Gus Shihab helps people understand and navigate the U.S. immigration system, which includes the constantly-changing politics of our immigration laws. For a free and confidential consultation, contact us through our website or at 877-479-4USA (4872).

More Blog Posts

The New USCIS Approval Notice Procedure is Unnecessary – If it Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It, Immigration Visa Lawyer Blog, October 18, 2011

How to Visit the U.S. with a Visitor (B-1) Visa to Conduct Business on Behalf of Overseas Employer (Part 2), Immigration Visa Lawyer Blog, April 3, 2011

How to Visit the U.S. with a Visitor (B-1) Visa to Conduct Business on Behalf of Overseas Employer (Part 1), Immigration Visa Lawyer Blog, March 28, 2011

Photo credit: Waterpolo 2 by cx_ed on stock.xchng.