Visa Rules Block International College Athletes From Making NIL Money

An online petition seeks to change the rules so that international students can earn money through the NCAA's name, image, and likeness policy.
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  • College athletes have been able to profit off their name, image, and likeness since July 2021.
  • International students with F-1 visas have strict restrictions on how much they can work.
  • Colleges are responsible for making sure international students comply with visa rules.

If you're an international student-athlete hoping to cash in on your name, image, and likeness (NIL) while playing in the U.S., you're probably out of luck.

Ever since the NCAA issued its interim NIL policy in July 2021, student-athletes across all sports have been earning money by signing autographs, promoting products on social media, and making marketing appearances. Some big-name college athletes have been signing contracts that add up to millions of dollars.

More than 21,000 international students are included in the NCAA's interim NIL policy, but because most of these athletes are in the U.S. with F-1 visas, their opportunities to earn an income are strictly limited.

Students with F-1 visas are only allowed to work on-campus jobs for up to 20 hours per week and are barred from all off-campus jobs in their first year. After the first year, these students are only allowed to do practical training related to their study, like a paid internship.

Likewise, student-athletes with F-1 visas are sponsored by their schools. That means those schools are responsible for making sure students comply with visa rules. They also have the discretion to cancel a student's F-1 visa status if any rules are broken.

"If the school finds out that one of their international student-athletes has been doing side jobs, making money off their name, image, or likeness, the school is legally obligated to terminate their visa. It has drastic consequences," Dorka Juhasz, a forward on the University of Connecticut's women's basketball team, told the Associated Press.

Juhasz, who is from Hungary, and other international students at the university told the AP they have avoided any NIL deals because of that possibility of being sent home. Meanwhile, Juhasz's teammate, Paige Bueckers, is one of the biggest stars in women's basketball, earning thousands of dollars in NIL deals.

"Back in Europe, everybody is getting paid for playing basketball, and obviously over here it's not the same thing," Juhasz said. "It was kind of disappointing because we thought (NIL) was going to be equal opportunity, kind of. We thought there would be a chance for us to show ourselves, show our brand, and build our brand."

UConn women's basketball coach, Geno Auriemma, thinks the current situation is unfair.

"The international kids don't even have an opportunity to see whether anybody wants to do anything with them or not," he told the AP. "So, should they be treated like everybody else? Of course they should."

A coalition of college sports stakeholders launched an online petition in April seeking to get Congress and the federal government to change the rules for international athletes and make them eligible for NIL dollars.

There were 3,585 first-year international athletes at Division I schools and 2,112 at Division II schools in 2020, according to the NCAA. Most international athletes participate in non-revenue sports such as tennis, ice hockey, soccer, and golf that haven't generated much NIL interest.

According to the NCAA, 63% of first-year international athletes in men's Division I sports played tennis in 2020. But men's tennis accounted for just 0.4% of NIL compensation through April 30, 2022, according to Opendorse.

In women's Division I sports, 59% of first-year international students played tennis in 2020. Meanwhile, women's tennis accounted for just 0.3% of NIL compensation through April 30, according to Opendorse.

The top three sports for NIL compensation are football, women's basketball, and men's basketball, according to Opendorse.