The Price of Play: International student athletes struggle to obtain student and work visas

The Price of Play: International student athletes struggle to obtain student and work visas

Photo by Justing Holyfield

Lee University, like so many colleges throughout the U.S., has a number of international athletes who are members of sports teams.

Unfortunately, the process of getting legal permission to attend college outside of one's home country is not always a simple task.

The task of getting permission for an international student to attend a school in the U.S. begins with getting a student visa.

The process of obtaining his student visa took him six months.

Tom Halsall, Flames international goalkeeper originally from Southport, England, said the process was long and tedious at times, and he found himself filling out countless forms, some that asked questions such as "Are you a terrorist?"

One of the steps Halsall said was particularly intimidating was a trip to the U.S. Embassy so he could be questioned about why he wanted a student visa.

"It's a really scary place. It's this massive building with a massive gate and guards standing all over the place," Halsall said. "That's only one small part of the process."

There are guidelines that international students must agree to prior to receiving their student visas.

One of these restrictions include international students are not to work anywhere or for anyone off of the campus of the school which they attend.

"It's hard to earn money when all I can do is tutor and referee intramurals," Flames soccer player and Liverpool, England native Jon Finlay said. "It's hard because I can't earn any money."

According to, international students must leave the U.S. for their home country in a 'timely manner' after completing their degree programs.

'Students generally have 60 days to depart the U.S." or they risk having their visa revoked and being deported, according to

However, a student may apply for Optimal Practical Training (OPT) which allows a student to work and/or stay in the U.S. after completing their degree. Students are not permitted to apply for an OPT before nine months of enrollment at their school or after completing all of the courses in their program.

Even with an OPT, the job is required to be directly related to the students' degree program.

If an international student wants to remain living in the U.S., they must receive a work visa.

In order to acquire a work visa, the student must find an employer willing to sponsor the visa.

Sponsoring a work visa is more than an employer agreeing to be the sponsor. The employer must take the initiative and fill out the forms requesting to sponsor the international person; the student is not allowed to be a part of this process.

"It is a huge decision," Lady Flames soccer player Laura Thacker said. "I can see why some people just move back home, because it takes so much time, money and effort."

There are people who wish there were not so many obstacles international students are forced to navigate when attempting to get permission to do anything across the border of their home countries.

"[I would like] the ability to not be sponsored," Finlay said. "To prove I have a degree, I will contribute to taxes. Let me just pay an amount of money to get my own visa and let me stay."

Halsall said he had  just turned 19 when he moved to the U.S., and he was not looking ahead and planning for the process that staying in the U.S. may require. He said until his junior year he hardly even thought of it, and now as a senior it can seem overwhelming at times.

Halsall said even though he really wants to stay in the U.S. after graduation, he trusts God not to lead him astray.

"I've got faith in God," Halsall said. "If he wants, he will find a way for me to be here. If he wants me to be at home, then I'll go home. But I really don't think the plan is to go home. I feel like God has brought me here to stay."

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