Tips for E-sports Participants Travelling to the U.S. or Canada

Authors: Jessica Jensen, Graham Christie, Peter E. Anandranistakis, Mahdi Shams

E-sports tournaments have seen tremendous success in hosting arena events with crowd participation in the past. However, e-sports organizers, unlike some traditional sports and entertainment organizers, are uniquely situated to address the current limitations on in-person events as they can operate through already well-established gaming and streaming platforms that can provide fans with an interactive viewing experience unlike anything available on TV.

Through the purchase “online passes,” these e-sports events can carry on with less risk than regular in-person sporting events that can require a variety of instances of physical contact among fans, talent, production and players. However, due to issues relating to competitiveness (LAN vs Online) and production value, we are still seeing many of the essential tournament participants travel to in-person events while the fans watch from home.

Below are some important considerations for international players and participants when they seek to obtain visas and authorization to travel and participate in e-sports events in Canada and the United States.

Travel Restrictions

Both the United States and Canada have COVID-19 travel restrictions in place. The United States currently requires travellers to present negative COVID-19 test results taken within 72 hours of travel in order to board an aircraft destined for the United States. Presidential Proclamations are also in place restricting travel from certain countries with high-volumes of COVID-19 and COVID-19 variant cases.

Canada has implemented a similar rule requiring travellers to take COVID-19 tests within 72 hours of travelling to Canada. Travellers are also required to take a mandatory COVID-19 test upon entry to Canada and quarantine for three days at a Government-approved hotel before completing a full 14-day quarantine period at home.

At this time, international travel is not encouraged by the U.S. and Canadian government, unless to participate in essential activities. Once the Governments lift or ease travel restrictions many leagues will be looking to resume tournaments and events as soon as possible.

Visa and Authorization Options for Participation

When travelling, e-sports participants should consider how they want to apply for travel to Canada. For example:

  • Since 2013 in the U.S., e-sports participants are recognized as athletes for the purposes of U.S. visa applications. This designation opens the door for e-sports participants to be eligible for a P Visa which is reserved for professional or amateur athletes or teams (including coaches and support personnel) that are internationally recognized coming to the U.S. temporarily to participate in an event, or an O Visa for individuals (including their coaches and support personnel) with extraordinary abilities.
  • In Canada, a participant may or may not require a work permit depending on the event and their intended activities while in Canada. E-sports participants have been allowed entrance and participation in Canadian events as athletes. Applications for a work permit, like the visas in the U.S., are normally completed ahead of time and approved before travel to Canada occurs.
  • A work permit is necessary for those intending to live and work in Canada while they participate in a Canadian-based e-sports team in a professional or semi-professional capacity. The International Mobility program in Canada allows individuals in this situation to apply for a work permit prior to travel if they can prove that reciprocity exists for the particular occupation in their home country.
    Individuals 18 years old and younger who wish to live in Canada for a short period while they participate in e-sports may qualify for the Canada World Youth Program, which is an international exchange program aimed at giving their Canadian hosts a better appreciation of different cultures.

For individuals who are coming to Canada to participate in a sports event either as an individual participant or as a member of a foreign-based team or Canadian amateur team on a short term or one-time event basis, a work permit may not be necessary. Those attending one event or on a temporary basis only need to provide detailed information about their intended activities upon arrival in Canada.

It is important for e-sports participants to remember that even if a visa or work permit is obtained or no work permit is needed, this does not guarantee a traveller’s admittance to the U.S. or Canada. Each person will be assessed upon entry to the country of travel and can be inadmissible and denied entrance for a variety of reasons including previous criminal charges, past denied visa application, etc.

Key Takeaways for e-sports Participants

Dealing with legal issues in advance can help e-sports participants easily navigate travel to the United States and Canada allowing for a greater focus on the event itself, which can greatly help raise the e-sports profile in a post-COVID-19 world.

Whether or not teams, leagues, and players have immediate plans for travel and in-person tournaments, considering the issues in advance will be beneficial when the time to plan or attend tournaments comes. The immigration group at MLT Aikins can provide guidance and assistance in navigating these complexities and identifying suitable strategies to best assist prospective e-sports travellers achieve their tournament goals.

We will continue to monitor the restrictions and the exemptions as they are provided by the Federal Government.

Note: This article is of a general nature only and is not exhaustive of all possible legal rights or remedies. In addition, laws may change over time and should be interpreted only in the context of particular circumstances such that these materials are not intended to be relied upon or taken as legal advice or opinion. Readers should consult a legal professional for specific advice in any particular situation.