For Isis Vrolijks, the opportunity to play field hockey at Longwood University in Virginia was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. After moving to the United States from the Netherlands two years ago, Vrolijks says she now feels like she has found her second home.
“The atmosphere of being on a college campus is amazing, and being part of the team I’m on right now is the best,” says Vrolijks, a criminal justice student. “I made some really good friends here, and all of their families are really open and kind to international students.”
There are more than 20,000 international student-athletes registered and competing at National Collegiate Athletic Association schools. The NCAA is a nonprofit organization in the United States that regulates and administers intercollegiate athletics.
“Every young athlete knows that to perform at their best, you have to be in the American university system,” says Munya Maraire, a Zimbabwean-born former Pennsylvania State University sprinter and footballer and CEO. from World Wide Scholarships, which places African athletes. with American colleges and sports organizations.
Playing sports at a US school can bring greater visibility and opportunity, but there are also important visa restrictions for international student-athletes to keep in mind. Here are three things prospective international student-athletes should know when considering attending an American college or university.
There are opportunities to grow your audience.
International student-athletes can gain large followings by playing on nationally recognized varsity teams, administrators say.
“We are a very high performance athletics program that sponsors over 20 sports,” says Matthew Banker, Associate Athletic Director for the University of Louisville in Kentucky. “We also have a very large and loyal fanbase, not just here in Louisville, but across the country and around the world.”
The university is nationally ranked in many sports, and Banker says the opportunity to compete in NCAA Division I “creates success and more positive exposure for our student-athletes.” The school helps student-athletes with all facets of their college experience, he adds, including with branding and social media development.
AT Ohio State Universitystudent-athletes get professional assessments from social media to boost their profile and increase their follower count, says Carey Hoyt, Senior Associate Athletic Director of Sport Administration and Student-Athlete Development.
“They receive data to show when their posts perform best and when their fans are most likely to engage with their posts,” Hoyt says. “Plus, they have access to athlete brand experts and e-learning modules.”
Vrolijks says she has already gained a lot of followers on her social media platforms and is also getting help from KingsTalent, a sports recruiting agency that helped her come to the United States.
“This agency reposts everything about my field hockey and experience in America, which helps me gain followers on their account and girls who play field hockey in the Netherlands,” says Vrolijks.
Compensation for NIL could put your visa at risk.
In 2021, the NCAA changed its rules to allow student-athletes to receive compensation for the use of their name, image, or likeness (known as “NIL”). But international students may not be able to take advantage of the change.
“The NCAA’s Provisional NIL Policy does not prohibit international student-athletes from engaging in NIL opportunities,” said NCAA spokesperson Saquandra Heath. could potentially jeopardize an international student’s visa.
Immigration lawyer Raymond G. Lahoud, who chairs Norris McLaughlin’s immigration practice group, says international students make up about 12% of all college athletes, including more than 3 000 play in Division I teams.
“Most of these students are in the United States on an F-1 student visa, which is quite restrictive in that it does not allow a student to work in the United States,” Lahoud explains. “With respect to NCAA NIL legislation, international student-athletes on F-1 visas should remain as passive as possible while in the United States. Students should just practice the sport in the United States and nothing more.
Banker says UofL Athletics advises international student-athletes “to be cautious about pursuing NIL opportunities due to employment restrictions on their student visas.”
But Vrolijks says she believes in equal treatment for all student-athletes.
“Every student-athlete should be allowed to capitalize on their likeness, including international students. I think it’s fair because international students work as hard as any other American student athlete,” says Vrolijks.
Lack of NIL opportunities for international student-athletes hinders equity and inclusion, says Ancia Ifill, associate director of academic services for UofL Athletics and former junior tennis player from Barbados who received a tennis scholarship of Bethune-Cookman University in Florida. “It’s time for key stakeholders to highlight the need for equity and inclusion at all levels.”
For its part, the Federal Student and Exchange Visitor Program is currently evaluating the issue of NIL compensation for international student-athletes and whether regulatory guidance may be needed, said Britney L. Walker, spokeswoman for United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement at the Department of Homeland Security.
Compensation opportunities may exist in your home country.
Although international student-athletes cannot take advantage of NIL opportunities in the United States, they could still benefit once they return home.
“When advising international students on NCAA NIL legislation, I remind them that it is perfectly legal to return home during summer, spring and winter break to participate in NIL activities,” says Lahoud. “Where an international student-athlete is in his or her home country rendering services, the athlete may receive compensation from a U.S. company or, for that matter, any other company, regardless of violation of U.S. immigration law.”
Similarly, Banker says UofL International Student and Scholars Services staff advised that an international student-athlete might seek out NIL opportunities while in their own country, such as an in-store appearance “which would never overlap when using the student visa”.
Banker advises UofL international student-athletes to always check with the university’s office for international students first.
Vrolijks says she is not currently seeking any possibility of compensation in her country. And that while being an international student-athlete is hard work, she believes the experience is worth it in the end.
“What I would say to other international student-athletes who are considering coming to the United States, if you have the chance, definitely come,” says Vrolijks.