Consider the dilemma of the newly drafted NHL hockey player from Canada. After signing his Standard Player Contract, obtaining his P visa, and loading up his gear and heading to the border with his long time girlfriend alongside to begin training camp, both are stopped at the border. The immigration officer inquires of the girlfriend of her intention to travel to the United States to accompany the player just for the duration of the season. She is turned denied entry and turned away.

What happened? The girlfriend in the above scenario was denied entry due to a concept called immigrant intent. The officers at the border made a determination that because she was not married to the player or otherwise in the possession of an independent student or work visa, the girlfriend most likely had the “intent” to remain in the United States never to return to Canada. Seem implausible or irrational? It is a frequent real life border situation that can be disruptive to a professional organization that is concerned with the smooth transition of its players (and significant others) to ensure focus on the ice.

Recently, in August 2011, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services issued a revised Policy Memo that appears to provide a possible solution to the above scenario. The August 2011 policy memo stands for the proposition that border officials are now given discretion to grant B visa (tourist) entry to cohabiting partners or household members of nonimmigrant visa holders.

Immigration defines cohabiting partners and household members as “an alien who regularly resides in the same dwelling as the principal nonimmigrant and with whom the principal nonimmigrant maintains the type of relationship and care as one normally would expect between nuclear family members.”
While the ultimate approvability of the visa is at the discretion of the reviewing officer, this policy change appears to provide a policy basis to permit the live-in girlfriends of professional foreign athlete to enter the United States to accompany the player for the duration of the season.

Members of the Jackson Lewis Global Immigration Group can also assist with the analysis of how this new cohabiting partners policy change can be applied to scenarios outside of professional sports.