The Russian Weightlifting Federation (RWF) has claimed that issues with securing USA visas for their athletes and coaches prevented them from fielding a team for the World Youth Weightlifting Championships, held in Las Vegas from 8th to 15th March 2019.
In an interview with TASS, the President of the RWF said:
“The federation [RWF] started its work on the application of visa documents for the youth championship well in advance and we have considered all possible variants of applying for US entry documents, however, it turned out to be impossible to receive visas,”
The TASS article goes on to include comments from Alexander Kishkin, RWF Performance Director, who stated that the only way for them to secure visas was to travel outside of Russia, which was unacceptable to the Russian team. The article also describes the competition as a “failure” with “dubious results”.
Phil Andrews, CEO of USA Weightlifting (USAW), has responded to the claims (his full statement is included at the bottom of this article). He acknowledged that some national governing bodies had experienced delays and difficulties with securing USA visas for their teams but also said that, with USAW assistance, the vast majority of athletes who applied for visas before the recommended deadline were granted them.
What Visa is Required to Compete in the USA?
Either a P1 or B1/B2 visitor visa is required in order to travel to the USA and compete in a competition. P1 visas are typically for professional athletes who will be paid to appear while B1/B2 visas are more usual for amateur athletes.
Why Couldn’t the Russian Team Get Visas In Russia?
In 2017, as part of a diplomatic dispute, Russia applied sanctions on the USA that significantly reduced staff at the USA Embassy and Consulates in Russia. Visas are still processed there (58,410 visas were issued at the Moscow Embassy in 2018) but reduced staffing has led to long wait times for required interviews. The current wait time for an interview for a visitor visa is three hundred days.
Because of this issue, the Russian team were recommended to travel outside of Russia, to either Latvia or Belarus, where wait times for interviews were not a problem.
Why Didn’t the Russian Team Travel to Get Visas?
According to the RWF, the complications of minors travelling outside the country, along with the coaching staff’s objection to taking athletes away from training meant that the option of travelling to Belarus or Latvia was not taken.
Flights from Moscow to Minsk in Belarus and Riga in Latvia take around ninety minutes and one hundred minutes respectively. USA Weightlifting has stated that it offered to assist with the cost of these trips.
Did The Russian Team Leave It Too Late?
The regulations for the Youth World Championships recommend applying for visas at least four months before the start of the competition. The RWF has said that they tried to submit documents in “early 2019”, According the USAW, the RWF provided an intent to apply for visas on 14 January 2019.
So, it does seem that the RWF started the application process later than recommended by USAW. However, it appears that this would not have helped with getting a visa in Moscow and would not have prevented getting a visa in Belarus or Latvia.
What About Other Countries?
The RWF mentioned several other countries not sending teams to the Youth World Championships. USAW responded to this by giving the following explanations about those nations and others that experienced difficulties:
- Uzbekistan – extra checks due to previous defections, including athletes in the 2017 World Championships. 8 Visas granted.
- Syrian Arab Republic – extra checks required but visas were granted and a Syrian athlete won a medal
- DPR Korea – Visas have been granted in the past but no visa applications were made for this competition
- Belarus – did not enter any athletes for the competition in preliminary entries
- Ukraine – ” lack of timely funding, and we do not have enough time to file documents for visas.”
- IR Iran – Did not apply for a visa, wanted to concentrate on their own Fajr Cup. Time to get visa did factor into this decision
- People’s Republic of China – did not apply for any visas, for unknown reasons
Venezuela was mentioned by the RWF but not USAW. Given the current political situation between Venezuela and the USA, it is not surprising that they did not participate in this competition.
What About Future Competitions?
Phil Andrews has stated that “While we did everything possible to get visas for athletes in this meet, and every athlete who actually applied before the deadlines set (1 Dec 2018) did receive the visa, we stated at the IWF Executive Board we will not be a candidate for another World event until there is a change in the US policy regarding visas at the Governmental level.”
So, there will be no world championships of any age group in the USA until something changes.
Phil Andrews clarified that USAW would be candidates for silver and bronze-level competitions.
Statement from Phil Andrews, CEO of USA Weightlifting
USA Weightlifting in coordination with the U.S. Olympic Committee has supported the visa the process for individuals wishing to participate in the 2019 IWF Youth World Championships.
USA Weightlifting sent information regarding the visa application process to all IWF National Federations on July 10, 2018 and subsequently sent information seven additional times. USA Weightlifting recommended the final date to apply for visas to be December 1, 2018 for all nations except for nations included in Presidential Proclamation 9645, also known as the “travel ban,” which we requested to do so by September 1, 2018. USA Weightlifting has received feedback that some federations have reported that it has been more challenging to procure visas for this Championship than in 2015 or 2017 IWF World Championship events hosted by the USA or the 2013, 2014 or 2017 Pan American events hosted in the USA.
While circumstances globally have impacted several U.S. Embassies and Consulates, the U.S. visa process has remained the same. One major difference with an IWF Youth World Championships is that minor aged participants are involved, and with respect to the International Open, the absence of qualification criteria translates to higher level of scrutiny for applicants.
USA Weightlifting and the U.S. Olympic Committee have supported all requests from National Federations for support in visa applications. One major and consistent problem has been the application of visas after the established deadlines. Given appropriate lead-time, the U.S. is able to fully support visa inquiries, and has a strong track record of doing so inclusive of previous visa issuance in the sport of Weightlifting to DPR Korea, IR Iran, Syria, Yemen and more. Similarly, athletes from these nations have received visas to compete in the US in other sports in the last year.
In many nations, no problems have been experienced, including the issuance of 10-year visas to multiple nations. In others, there have been specific issues with denials under Section 214(b) of the United States Immigration and Nationality Act, for which USA Weightlifting and the US Olympic Committee have provided repeated guidance.
It might also be noted that one of the least granted US visas of any Embassy is that of Bangladesh (40.1% of all visas are issued), which was issued for this Championship with no problem whatsoever.
10 members of Team Uzbekistan applied for non-immigrant visas on 6 February at the U.S. Embassy, Tashkent. Three required administrative processing and seven were refused under Section 214(b) of the United States Immigration and Nationality Act. Section 214(b) presumes that all visa applicants are intending immigrants to the United States. It is up to the applicant to overcome this presumption by providing evidence which establishes strong ties to their home country.
Working with the Department of State, the USOC learned that the applicants where subject to additional scrutiny due to a number of previous defections to the United States by Uzbekistan athletes and officials from a number of sports. This included weightlifting athletes in 2017.
Subsequent to our inquiry, each applicant’s case was reviewed at a higher level and visas were issued to the following:
Nigorkhon Aripova – Vice President
Bahtiyor Abdukarimov – Team Manager
Djura Zairov – Coach
Nigora Abdullaeva – Athlete
Kumushkhon Fayzullaeva – Athlete
Tursunov Jabborova – Athlete
Asadbek Narimanov – Athlete
Nigora Suvonova – Athlete
Due to sanctions imposed by the Russian Federation upon the United States in August 2017, operations at U.S. Missions in Russia are reduced. Following the guidance of the U.S. Department of State, the USA Weightlifting Federation and U.S. Olympic Committee recommended that Russian applicants apply at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate outside of Russia.
The Russian team provided an intent to apply for visas on 14 January 2019. This date is considered significantly late as it is within 90 days of the start of the competition. Despite this late notification, both USA Weightlifting and the U.S. Olympic Committee supported it by providing a list of appointment wait times at nearby locations in third countries, with the recommendation of Riga or Minsk since both had wait times of 1-3 days.
USA Weightlifting further offered to assist with the cost of the team’s travel to the interview. We recommended Riga, LAT or Minsk, BLR which both had wait times of one to three days. This offer was made to the Russian MF President on 7 February, and repeated on the 13 February, 18 February and 20 February. On 18 February, Mr. Agapitov stated that the General Secretary of the RFWF was evaluating the situation.
The RFWF had 12 entries in the preliminary entry system.
It should be noted that the Technical Official appointed by the RFWF did not participate, while the President of the Federation did. It might also be worth noting that the presence of a parent or guardian is NOT required for the visa interview.
During the Executive Board, the RFWF claimed they had attempted to obtain visas in Tbilisi, Georgia since there was an availability of a camp there. However, discussion with the Georgian Federation showed that while a conversation about a camp did occur, this conversation occurred during the 2018 IWF World Championships in Ashgabat, TKM.
It should be noted Russian teams from other sports have successfully obtained visas through these same procedures to facilitate their participation, with no assistance.
SYRIAN ARAB REPUBLIC
The Syrian team applied very late for their visas. Syria is one of seven countries included in Presidential Proclamation 9645. As are result, it is recommended that Syrian applicants apply at least six months in advance of the event, if possible. As stated in the proclamation:
“a consular officer will determine whether an applicant otherwise eligible for a visa is exempt from the Proclamation or, if not, may be eligible for a waiver under the Proclamation allowing issuance of a visa.”
The Syrian Team were able to obtain the visa and indeed participated with a medal.
MR. MOHAMMED JALOUD
Mr. Jaloud required administrative processing. Due to confidentiality policies, we are not able to inquire further about the details of his administrative processing.
A more typical Administrative Processing case from Doha would be Dr. Abdullah Al-Jarml, a citizen of Yemen, who was issued his visa immediately since he had faced Administrative Processing in 2017.
We have worked diligently through the U.S. Olympic Committee with the U.S. Department of State to support his application and encourage resolution in time to facilitate his planned travel.
There has been mention that DPR Korea may have expressed interest in participating in these events.
The USOC is able to liaise with the U.S. Department of State, and through the U.S. Embassy Beijing, to facilitate visa processing for the DPRK delegations. Provided with enough lead time, these efforts have been successful in the past, and could have been employed to assist the delegation wishing to attend.
Such efforts have been successful, as recently as early February, when visas were issued for an athletic delegation wishing to compete in a Championship event for another sport. In this case, the DPRK delegation cancelled their flights and participation just prior to visa issuance; however, the visas were successfully processed to conclusion and would have facilitated their participation.
Separately, the DPR Korea Federation stated they did not apply for the visa, nor did they contact the US federation for any support.
Belarus & Ukraine
It has been rumored that Belarus and Ukraine did not participate because of Visa reason. However, no preliminary entry was received from Belarus, although 11 were registered in the Preliminary entry for Ukraine.
Delegates of both Federations successfully received visas to participate, and did participate, in Las Vegas.
There was no out reach at any stage from the Belarussian Federation except to support the visa application of the President, received on January 21 which was actioned and the individual successfully received the visa.
In regards to the Ukraine, we received notification on 7 February 2019 that they would not participate. Their representative Kim Tkachenko stated when we asked for the reason,
“Yes, of course. First of all – lack of timely funding, and we do not have enough time to file documents for visas.”
The Islamic Republic of Iran did not take part in the 2019 IWF Youth World Championships, and did not apply for a visa.
Following a discussion with representatives of the IRI Federation at the 2018 IWF World Championships and follow up afterwards, the IRI WF wanted to concentrate their time and resources on hosting the Fajr Cup which is close in date to the 2019 IWF Youth World Championship.
The IRI Federation were very honest that the lengthy time required to acquire a visa did factor into this decision.
People’s Republic of China
The PR China did not apply for the visa to participate in the 2019 IWF Youth World Championship for unknown reasons.