Tonight marks an exciting occasion – Happy Preseason Game Day for the WNBA! 


We’re eagerly counting down the hours to watch the Chicago Sky take on the Minnesota Lynx, and the Indiana Fever (hello Caitlin Clark!) face off against the Dallas Wings. 


Here at McEntee Law, we’re not just avid basketball fans; we’re also passionate supporters of women’s sports and international student athletes. Being based in one of the greatest sports cities in the U.S. – Chicago – adds an extra layer of excitement to the WNBA preseason. 


Our excitement soared when Chicago Sky secured two of the most sought-after women’s basketball players during the WNBA draft: Kamilla Cardoso and Angel Reese. 


As an immigration law firm, Kamilla’s story particularly resonates with us. The 3rd overall pick in the first round of the draft, she made the courageous move from her homeland of Brazil to the U.S. just days after turning 15. Kamilla pursued her American Dream, which, for her, meant playing basketball. It wasn’t an easy journey to relocate to a foreign country as a teenager, away from family and without fluency in the language. But like many immigrants, Kamilla’s dedication and hard work paid off. Congratulations, Kamilla! 


Kamilla is not alone; she joins a cohort of immigrant athletes who showcased their talents in this year’s NCAA March Madness. International students make up nearly 12.8% of Division-I NCAA athletes, including 15% of men’s college basketball players and 13% of women’s college players. 


Some standout NCAA immigrant basketball players include:  

  • Aaliyah Edwards, Canada, U Connread here about her NIL struggles  
  • Nika Muhl, Croatia, U Conn  
  • Zach Edey, Canada, Purdue  read here about missing out on profits due to U.S. NIL law 
  • Bronagh Power-Cassidy, Ireland, Holy Cross 


However, international student athletes face unique challenges compared to their U.S. citizen peers, especially regarding Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL) opportunities. While NIL rights have opened new avenues for NCAA athletes to benefit from their personal brands, international students on F-1 visas are restricted from accepting most NIL deals. (Note that there may be some passive NIL deals that could work but that requires some individualized advice from one of our experienced immigration lawyers.) 


Foreign student athletes should be able to benefit from NIL opportunities just as their U.S. peers do. This unequal status quo is a problem – not just for the individual student – but also for the school and for the U.S. as a whole. The inability of international student athletes to enjoy NIL benefits can limit the ability of universities to compete for the best international talent. And it can also push these NILs to be done overseas which hurts the U.S.  


Recognizing this disparity as a significant issue, Senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy called for updated regulations allowing international athletes to benefit from NIL without jeopardizing their visa status. 


Having received no guidance on this, a few days ago, joined by Senators Pete Ricketts (R-Neb.) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), Senators Blumenthal and Murphy sent another letter to Secretary Mayorkas. This letter urged DHS to follow through on its commitment to protecting international college athletes’ ability to exercise their rights to NIL without fear of losing their lawful status as students at American colleges. 


There has also been legislation introduced in Congress to address NIL issues including those relating to international student-athletes. 


So, what can international student-athletes do to take advantage of NIL in advance of new laws or clear guidance from the Department of Homeland Security?  


Some extraordinary international student-athletes may be eligible to change status from student visa to O-1 visa. This requires demonstrating that they are at the top of their field but while the standard is high, it is potentially possible for some. Others might be able to change to a P-1 athlete visa.  


And for those going pro? Now that Kamilla and others are officially professional athletes, it’s safe to assume that they have left their F-1 student visa behind in favor of another visa that would give them more flexibility with regards to earnings!  


At McEntee Law Group, our experienced sports immigration lawyers understand that the NIL landscape presents unique challenges and opportunities for immigrant athletes. Our firm can provide tailored legal advice to help these athletes maximize their NIL potential without jeopardizing their visa status. As this landscape continues to evolve, our commitment remains steadfast: to advocate for and support the rights and aspirations of immigrant athletes in NCAA sports. Contact our firm today for help with your sports immigration needs by emailing or calling (773)828-9544. 


I hope you’ll join us in cheering on Kamilla and the Chicago Sky this evening… and in advocating for more NIL opportunities for our international student athletes.  


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