NIL= Not for International athLetes

College athletes across the country are rejoicing about the new NIL regulations finally put into place recently that allow them to profit off their own name, image, and likeness. While this change was long overdue for college athletes, not all athletes have been lucky enough to reap the benefits of NIL. International athletes have not yet been permitted to profit from NIL due to their VISA status. Currently, there are roughly 20,000 international student athletes who make up 13% of all Division I athletes, and these athletes have been told they can’t profit while on US soil [1].

The reason international student athletes have not yet been allowed to profit from NIL deals is because most of these athletes have what is called an F-1 visa. This visa type restricts the work students may do while in the United States. The rules say that students may work up to 20 hours per week at an on-campus job while school is in session, they may work full-time on campus during holidays and vacations, and their employment may not take a job away from a U.S. resident. The government defines on-campus employment as, “Work performed on the school’s premises directly for your school (including work affiliated with a grant or assistantship) [2].” Each athlete’s school is responsible for the student-athlete’s immigration compliance and has discretion to cancel the international student’s visa status if the student does anything that violates the rules. If a school finds out that one of their international athletes has been doing side jobs and making money off their name, image, and likeness, they will be obligated to terminate that athlete’s visa [3].

Many schools have told their international athletes to avoid NIL deals altogether for the time being because it could jeopardize their visa status, but others have found a creative way for international athletes to get involved. Many students during summer or other school breaks have been flying back to their home country to capitalize on NIL opportunities [4]. Experts say that if an international student gets a deal in their home country, does the work there, and is paid outside the United States, that would not be a problem. For example, Jaz Shelley, a Nebraska women’s basketball player who is from Australia, has received countless business inquiries while at school, but she was forced to decline due to her visa status. Over the summer, Shelley went back home to Australia and once she got there she reconnected with those who wanted do business with her and let them know since she was back in Australia, she was not restricted by her visa status. Shelley capitalized by making shirts and hoodies, as well as video shoutouts for her fans [5].

 Sam Alajiki is also trying to capitalize on his name image and likeness. Alajiki, a men’s basketball player at Cal Berkley who hails from Ireland, has recently signed an NIL deal with a college recruitment platform named NextUpRecruitment. Alajiki, an Irish student athlete, was able to sign with NextUpRecruitment due to their UK registration, as well as their ability to pay him in his own currency from a UK account. In return for payment, Alajiki will be promoting NextUpRecruitments recruitment platform across his social media accounts. Ryan Cook, the company’s founder, believes they have been able to navigate around any visa concerns, but not everyone is in the same boat [6].

Rob Seiger, an attorney who represents athletic departments in immigration and compliance issues, believes that the issue here is not where the payment is made, but what the student is doing in the United States and whether it can be considered ‘work for compensation’, which would lead to serious issues for these athletes. Cook said, “he’s literally going to be retweeting content. There’s no way that can be deemed as work.” He has also considered becoming an administrator of Alajiki’s social media accounts and publishing them that way. Alajiki has been in constant contact with the Cal Berkley compliance office to make sure this venture meets the requirements of his visa but still, no one is completely sure [7].

The line still is very unclear for what international athletes may and may not be able to do regarding profiting off their name, image, and likeness. Athletes are eager to hear guidance from the NCAA or relevant government agencies on what is to come next. Until then, international athletes ought to be very careful in what ventures they choose to pursue.

  1. https://www.ncaa.org/sports/2018/3/21/international-student-athlete-participation.aspx#:~:text=There%20are%20over%2020%2C000%20international,and%20competing%20at%20NCAA%20schools.
  2. https://www.internationalstudent.com/study_usa/way-of-life/working-in-the-usa/
  3. https://www.jdsupra.com/legalnews/international-student-athletes-and-ncaa-1729551/
  4. https://spectrumnews1.com/ky/louisville/sports/2022/05/30/foreign-athletes-nil
  5. https://omaha.com/sports/huskers/womens-basketball/left-out-while-in-the-us-jaz-shelleys-visit-to-australia-opens-door-to-profit/article_2a136e48-c5c1-11ec-a61a-df1db54a84ef.html
  6. https://www.forbes.com/sites/kristidosh/2022/04/25/berkeley-international-student-athlete-sam-alajiki-signs-nil-deal/?sh=2f1372561a8e
  7. Id.
  8. Photo: https://www.thewrap.com/hollywood-agencies-college-athlete-nil-deal-ncaa/

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I am a third year law student at the University at Buffalo. I wish to pursue either personal injury or sports law in my career after law school.

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