International student athlete and NIL rights

Understanding name, image and likeness rights of international students

State legislation passed and the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s (NCAA) interim policy suspending preexisting name, image, and likeness (NIL) rules does not address a certain subset of collegiate athletes – international student athletes.

According to NCAA data, there are more than 20,000 international student athletes competing at NCAA schools. While their teammates might be able to cash in on endorsement deals and other NIL arrangements, international students are limited in their ability to do so.

To enter the United States as a full-time student and compete at an accredited college or university, an international student athlete must obtain an F-1 visa. Under restrictions issued by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS), F-1 students are not permitted to work off-campus with some exceptions relating to practical training or special situations involving severe economic hardship due to unforeseen circumstances. In other words, an international student athlete would not be able to capitalize on their NIL rights without jeopardizing their visa status and risking deportation.

There are still some unknowns regarding the NIL rights of international students. For example, what constitutes “compensation.” While it is clear that accepting cash or a cash equivalent for the use of one’s NIL rights would be in direct violation of the F-1 visa requirements, could an international student athlete accept non-monetary compensation such as a t-shirt from a clothing brand or a comped meal from a restaurant? The answer is not clear but the consequences could be severe.

Another gray area is whether the federal government will intervene and if so, whether legislation will adequately address the international student athlete population. Immigration law is a federal matter and cannot be addressed by the patchwork of state legislation currently in place. Legislation has been proposed at the federal level that, if passed, would allow student athletes to be classified as employees of an institution and qualify for a work visa. Under the current rules, a foreign national with a work visa (e.g., a P-1 visa that allows athletes to enter the country for the purpose of athletic performance) would not be eligible to compete in the NCAA due to amateurism rules defining a professional athlete.

For now, it is up to the institution to educate its international students and international student athletes about what they need to do to maintain their visa status, including restrictions on employment.

Baker Tilly can help

We can help your institution take a proactive approach to evaluate the current state of your policies, processes, internal controls and definitions related to athletics and NIL to identify opportunities that align with the new changes.

NIL compliance services related to international collegiate student athletes

For more information, or to learn more about how Baker Tilly's higher education team can help your institution, contact our team.

NCAA, International Student-Athlete Participation

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Students and Employment

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