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U.S. Government Exempts Certain Professional Athletes and Their Staff, Leadership, Spouses, and Dependents from COVID-19 Travel Restrictions

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U.S. Government Exempts Certain Professional Athletes and Their Staff, Leadership, Spouses, and Dependents from COVID-19 Travel Restrictions

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In response to the worldwide spread of COVID-19, the Trump administration has imposed, with certain limited exemptions, several restrictions on the entry of foreign travelers from China, Iran, many European countries, and, as of this week, Brazil. Included in the exempted categories are “individuals whose entry would be in the national interest,” as determined by the U.S. Department of State (DOS) and U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

In a simultaneous effort to curb the virus’ spread, all major U.S. professional sports leagues and associations have either cancelled, suspended, or postponed their seasons and tournaments. Now, as these leagues and associations are preparing to resume training and sporting events, DHS has announced an exemption for certain foreign professional athletes and their essential “staff, team and league leadership, spouses, and dependents,” citing as reasons for the exemption: the need “to reopen the economy,” Americans’ “need [for] their sports,” and the “intangible benefits [of professional live sporting events] to the national interest, including civic pride and national unity.”

DHS’ National Interest order, signed by Acting Secretary Chad Wolf on Friday, May 22, 2020, exempts certain foreign professional athletes from the administration’s above-mentioned travel restrictions. This exemption currently applies only to professional athletes competing in professional sporting events in the following leagues (and their essential staff, team and league leadership, spouses, and dependents):

  • Major League Baseball (MLB)
  • the National Basketball Association (NBA)
  • the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA)
  • the Professional Golfers’ Association (PGA) Tour
  • the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) Tour
  • the National Hockey League (NHL)
  • the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP)
  • the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA)

Of note, the order states that the U.S. government “will work with the professional sporting groups to identify the specific [individuals] covered by this exemption” and that the order does not exempt these individuals from inspection by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) or any other agency requirements (such as required security and background checks). In addition, the Acting Secretary “may add or remove athletes, essential staff, team and league leadership, spouses, and dependents from the list to which this exemption applies based on my assessment of whether an exemption for such individuals is in the national interest, including the plans of the relevant professional sporting groups to support sporting events in the United States that do not cause an unnecessary risk to the public health.”

Of additional note, this exemption does not apply to Major League Soccer (MLS) at this time. Hopefully, that will change with future assessments and renditions.

Please stay tuned for continued updates via this website and our Facebook page throughout this time.

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