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Saturday, April 3, 2004

Baseball will be hit hard by visa restrictions
For SLAM! Canadian Baseball

That Peace Bridge border crossing? Closed. Same for the Windsor tunnel.

All will be out of bounds soon for a baseball player trying to enter the U.S. on a work visa to make his living.

Major-leaguers and minor-leaguers who currently have work visas don't have a thing to worry about, but a March 25 memo to all Major League Baseball scouting directors says that visas no longer will be issued for players drafted or signed this June.

"It's not just visas for Canadian baseball players. It doesn't matter whether it's for ball player, a factory worker or a landscaper, the visa limit has been reached for 2004," Frank Marcos of the MLB Scouting Bureau said from Ontario, Calif.

The U.S. Congress has mandated that work visas, or H-2B petitions, be limited to 66,000 workers for 2004. That total was reached March 9.

Each June about 40 to 45 Canadians are selected in the draft whether they be high-schoolers or collegians. About half sign, while the rest choose to go to school.

"The U.S. government set a limit of 66,000 and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will stick to that number," Marcos said. "Let's say another Cuban defects. A club will not be able to sign him because they won't have a visa for him."

On opening day 2003, 27.8% of major-league rosters were made up of foreign players from 16 countries and Puerto Rico. The Dominican Republic was second with 79 players. Canada was tied for fifth with 10 players on opening day and had 17 at the end of the season.

A year ago, 46% of the 6,196 minor-leaguers came from outside the U.S. Again, the Dominican led foreign countries with 1,427, while Canada was fourth with 95 and finished the season with 119.

Commissioner Bud Selig plans to meet with White House officials and hopes to find a friendly ear in U.S. president George W. Bush, former owner of the Texas Rangers. Baseball is in for a serious readjustment if it is not allowed to tap foreign markets which make up almost 50% of its minor-league feeder system.

"This decision is a major concern throughout baseball for clubs active in the foreign market," said Dick Groch, who covers Canada for the Milwaukee Brewers.

"This is more than a baseball problem. Think of the serious effects this will have with major corporations who do business in the U.S., the loss of jobs, the effect on families, insurance and health benefits."

MLB is working with other sports industries to resolve the issue.

"Canadian players will be selectable and signable, but they will have to sign a 2005 contract," Marcos said. "Players can sign and go to instructional league (in October) since they aren't paid and don't need a visa."

This is not good news for an aspiring prospect with pro dreams, whether you live in the Dominican, Venezuela or Canada.

"What if this was Adam Loewen or Jeff Francis' year?" Marcos asked. Loewen was selected fourth overall by the Baltimore Orioles and Francis was chosen ninth overall by the Colorado Rockies in 2002. Francis signed quickly and was given a $1.85-million US bonus, while Loewen did not sign until May 2003 and was given a $4.02-million major-league deal.

There is talk that applications for 2005 visas can be made in October and the quota is expected to be reached by next January. And so the problem snowballs.

"Hockey's minor leagues will be seriously affected if Canadians and Europeans, signed this June, can't get visas to play in the minors," Marcos said.

In other words, the visa situation is a mess.
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