Irish student athlete Sam Alajiki, who plays basketball for the University of California, Berkeley, has agreed to the terms of a four-figure endorsement deal with college recruiting platform NextUpRecruitment.
NextUpRecruitment founder and former college basketball player Ryan Cook said the deal was a natural next step in his organization’s work with Alajiki.
“We created NextUpRecruitment to help undiscovered athletes find scholarships, and we’ve been part of Sam’s journey from the start, so who better than him to become our first official NIL contract! Hopefully this deal opens up the door, raises awareness and enables more and more international athletes to strike deals and profit from their hard work.
NextUpRecruitment helps athletes navigate the college recruiting process and connect with thousands of college coaches offering scholarships. Ryan described the platform as the “LinkedIn of college sports.”
Alajiki is thrilled to be one of the first international student athletes to sign an NIL agreement.
“I think it’s a hugely exciting opportunity and a privilege to be one of the first international athletes in history, if not the first, to sign an NIL contract. The changes in NIL have been a game changer for so many people. athletes and I hope more international athletes can benefit from it.
Overcome International Student Visa Obstacles to NIL
Most international student athletes have so far refrained from entering into NIL agreements due to work restrictions on their student visas. These students typically hold an F-1 visa, which limits a student’s work to on-campus positions, with restrictions on total hours, and off-campus work for optional practical training in their field or curricular practical training as part of their education.
Cook says his company was able to strike a deal that is unaffected by visa limitations, as his company has been registered to do business in the UK since 2017.
“As a UK registered company, we were able to sign a NIL contract with Sam without causing any issues with his current student visa. Being registered in the UK and paying for it in their own currency, from a UK account, allowed us to overcome these issues while protecting Sam.”
As part of the deal, Alajiki will promote the NextUpRecruitments recruitment platform on its social media channels and provide content for the company’s TikTok account.
Disagreement on what is allowed
Rob Seiger, a partner at the law firm Archer, represents college and university athletic departments on immigration and compliance matters for foreign athletes. He is not convinced that simply being registered to do business in the athlete’s home country and paying in local currency through a local bank is sufficient to overcome potential Visa.
“The issue here is ultimately not where the payment to the student-athlete is made, but what the student-athlete is doing in the United States that could sideline them with USCIS as to the ‘performing unauthorized “work” for pay. If the storyline involved student-athlete appearances, signing autographs and other active promotions in the United States, and it was simply the pay being placed in a foreign bank account, I could see that as potentially problematic.”
Seiger says sports immigration lawyers are increasingly advising on distinctions as to what might be considered passive income-generating activities that might present a more reasonable approach. for the international student athlete to accept NIL under the current regulations.
“The concept of passive activity considered potentially acceptable stems from a series of court cases where immigration considered if an owner visa holder rental properties generating rental income was considered to be working without permission in the United States.
“In these cases, it was argued that the visa holder was essentially passive, doing nothing, in earning these rental payments. Extrapolating this to NIL, a potential scenario where an overseas student player simply received payment for the use of their likeness alone could be considered analogous.
When asked if social media promotion, such as that contemplated in this agreement, had been reviewed in a case to determine if it was considered a passive activity, Seiger said he had seen nothing and thought that this was more likely to be considered active.
Cook, however, disagrees.
“As an international athlete receiving payment for services, particularly with that from a UK company, with a UK athlete, this does not violate the terms of a student visa, regardless of whether Sam is currently in the United States. For example, let’s say Sam is great at graphic design and we decide we’d like to hire Sam for those services. He provides a service, just as he might if he was still in the UK, he doesn’t “work in the US”.
Justin DiTolla, associate director of athletics for compliance and student services for Cal Athletics, is aware of the deal and says his department will speak with the international office on campus that handles student visas for s to ensure that Alajiki’s activities continue to meet all of its visa requirements.