Living In America

How foreign skaters are getting their U.S. work visas.

As the number offoreign skaters storming the U.S. pro and amateur ranks continues to rise, theneed to obtain work visas rises accordingly. Anyone who’s dealt with U.S.Immigration knows what a bureaucratic nightmare that canbecome–never-ending paperwork written in legalese, weeks of waiting for aresponse that might require even more paperwork before achieving the desiredresult, etc. That’s where Alison Walters enters the picture. Walters isan attorney currently with the Los Angeles-based Law Offices of CarlShusterman, and for the past five years she’s been helping skaters andother industry personnel obtain the visas necessary to live and work in theU.S.

According to Walters, the biggest problemskaters (or anyone, for that matter) face when trying to obtain their visas isapplying for the wrong type. She says most people apply for a performing visaor P visa. P visas’ validity duration is very limited–only sixmonths to a year–and are best used by foreign entertainment groups,athletes, or entertainers who only intend to enter the U.S. on a temporarybasis, either as part of an exchange program or to teach in a culturally uniqueprogram. The type of visa Walters usually helps her skate clients obtain is anoutstanding visa (O visa), which is valid for three years and is easilyextended thereafter as long as the individual can prove they’ve continuedto work in the industry. The O visa is available to foreigners who haveextraordinary ability or achievements in a particular field or fields (e.g.,pro skaters).

While the inability to speak English is not abarrier, having no exposure is. Walters says it’s easiest to get an Ovisa approved if the skater has received a lot of coverage in the either U.S.or internationally. Once the visa petition is filed with the INS, response timeis usually six to eight weeks. After receiving a response, a visa is issuedinto the individual’s passport. Now’s the time the foreign skatershould declare any past arrests in their home country. Waivers are generallygranted for misdemeanor offenses such as skating orpossession of less than one ounce of marijuana. The important thing is that theskater not get into any trouble once they’re here; while most statesidemisdemeanors would be overlooked, felonies are cause for immediate deportation.

Walters encourages skaters to already havesponsors before attempting to obtain a visa. It is possible to enter the U.S.with a six-month tourist visa. During that time the skater can try to find asponsor, but legally speaking, you’re not supposed to look for work whileholding a tourist visa.

For a 3,000-dollar fee Walters has helpedskaters from Finland, Brazil, Australia, and Canada (to name a few) obtain alltypes of visas. She loves her job, and especially enjoys working with skatersand others in the industry. She says she watches televised skate contestshoping to see one of her boys. Her husband thinks she’scrazy, but we understand.

If you’d like to turn the work of gettinga visa from the INS over to Alison Walters, here’s where she can bereached:

Alison Walters
Law Offices of Carl Shusterman
6246 S. Grand Avenue, Suite 1608
Los Angeles, CA 90017
Phone: (213) 623-4592
FAX: (213) 623-3720