After being petitioned by over a hundreds of thousand supportive gamers, the United States government has finally responded as to the official status of esports when it comes to granting visas.
Everything kicked off last year when Super Smash Bros. Melee player William "Leffen" Hjelte was deported from the United States. Rather than entering the country on a P-1 visa — the same which is granted to athletes — Hjlete was residing using a tourist visa.
Understandaly, the government was none too impressed with that and sent Hjlete on his way. But in the process it kicked off another conversation about the official status of esports when it comes to immigration and visas.
Results with the US governemnt have been a little mixed so far. In 2013, Canadian League of Legends player Danny "Shipthur" Le received a P-1 visa so he could train, compete, and earn a salary. The five players representing Mongolia's top Counter-Strike: Global Offensive team, however, weren't allowed into the US because the embassy wasn't convinced the players would return to Mongolia.
Canadian visitors can stay in the US for as long as half a year, and if they happen to win some money through esports in the process they can take that home too. But they can't earn a salary in the process, which is where the visa came in.
So now we come back to the end of April, when a petition was created on the United Government's We The People website. 117,675 people put forward their support, and as of the morning the White House has finally responded.
And — as far as they're concerned — there's nothing stopping esports from being recognised as an official sport, as far as immgiration is concerned.
"According to [U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services], the agency responsible for processing P-1 visa applications, there is no current policy categorically precluding an eSport from being recognized as a qualifying athletic competition," the White House wrote. "In fact, USCIS has approved P-1 visa petitions for athletes seeking to enter the United States to compete in eSport events."
They added every application is reviewed on a case-by-case basis, and that USCIS "may request additional information when there is not enough documentation or evidence to establish eligibility for the requested classification".
And therein lies the sticking point. As TheMongolz found, the discretion of the officer reviewing the application can often decide everything — and if the officer doesn't know esports or video games from a bar of soap, then your visa bid might be in trouble.
"Given this case-by-case adjudication, a particular denial or approval does not necessarily represent a broader policy interpretation or change."
The US government doesn't have a problem with esports being recognised as sports, then. Is it likely to happen in practice, however? Without mainstream recognition, probably not.