Vaccine Mandates Restrict P-1A Athletes in the NBA
By: Maddie Carlson
As of early December, a memo issued by the National Basketball Association (“NBA”) revealed that any unvaccinated athlete who possesses a temporary visa status will not be allowed to reenter the United States following international travel. This statement primarily pertains to those with the P-1A Athlete visa classification, which allows athletes to compete in the United States temporarily. Concurrently, the Canadian government also announced that non-vaccinated NBA athletes are now not allowed to enter the country to participate in competitions against their Toronto team. Both announcements threaten the legal status of U.S. athletes who have planned, and are expected to, participate in any upcoming basketball competitions in Toronto.
Many NBA Athletes are eligible for the P-1A visa based on the professional athletes’ criteria, wherein USCIS stipulates that those applicants must be employed by a “team that is a member of an association of six or more professional sports teams whose total combined revenues exceed $10 million per year.” Furthermore, the association these applicants are employed by “must govern the conduct of its members and regulate the contests and exhibitions in which its member teams regularly engaged.”
What is COVID-19’s Role?
Indeed, the NBA meets these requirements, and their athletes who require a P-1A visa are expected to follow the agency’s conducts in order to keep their position and visa status. However, it is important to note that the NBA’s governance over its players does not necessarily only exist in the court. The association has a code of conduct which all athletes must follow to create a safe environment for other players and game attendees. Alongside this code, there have been amendments to the NBA’s regulations to include health and safety protocols as COVID-19 cases continue to rise. These regulations had originally included the continual enforcement of masks regardless of vaccination status during travel and games. However, with this new regulation, unvaccinated players on a P-1A visa are indeed at risk of losing their position, and therein their visa status, if they are unable to travel for competitions. Furthermore, this raises the question on what the NBA’s potential plans will be regarding travel with unvaccinated permanent and natural born U.S. athletes as international travel restrictions continue to be implemented.
However, the NBA stated that 97% of their players are vaccinated, but only an estimated 60% have received their booster shots. Currently, the CDC considers individuals who have completed their two doses of Pfizer or Moderna, or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, to be fully vaccinated, but with the increase of COVID-19 variants, this definition may be subject to change soon.
What Can We Expect?
Regardless of this discourse, there is still a possibility that a significant number of NBA athletes who are in the United States under the P-1A visa may be at risk of losing their visa if they do not meet the CDC’s criteria for vaccination status and are planning on traveling outside of the United States for upcoming matches. As of now, there has been no news on whether or not any other athletic associations in the United States will follow suit with this new mandate, nor how restrictions in other countries will impact these leagues. Nonetheless, the trajectory of upcoming tournaments and the overall structure of various teams will be completely altered as major assets to the NBA will be stepping off the court due to this new mandate.