Louisiana youth soccer team sues US after coach is denied entry due to COVID-19 travel rules

Mid-South

FILE – In this Jan. 16, 2018 file photo, a Visa Services gazebo stands outside the U.S. Embassy in London as visa applicants wait to go inside. A youth soccer club hoping to welcome its new coach from the United Kingdom to Louisiana says it has been caught up in a bureaucratic quagmire for more than a year. The recently filed federal lawsuit that involves a presidential order aimed at curbing travel to stop the spread of COVID-19 names the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. embassy in London as defendants. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham, File)

HOUMA, La. (AP) — A youth soccer club hoping to welcome its new coach from the United Kingdom to the U.S. has been caught up in a morass of bureaucracy deeper than any Louisiana bayou, according to a federal lawsuit recently filed by the team.

The case involves a Louisiana soccer team, the coach it has recruited since 2018 and a presidential order aimed at curbing travel to stop the spread of COVID-19. It names the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Embassy in London as defendants.

The State Department cited a Jan. 25 proclamation signed by President Joe Biden that bans certain travel from the U.K. due to COVID-19, and said the coach’s visa application could not proceed, the lawsuit states.

But a lawyer for the Houma Terrebonne Soccer Association says the coach’s visa is a separate issue from the travel rules and should have been approved months ago. The travel restriction should not interfere with the issuance of a visa for coach Matthew Ferguson, she said.

The State Department said Tuesday that it generally does not comment on pending litigation.

Ferguson is considered invaluable to the Louisiana team, said New Orleans lawyer Leah Spivey, who represents the coach and the soccer association.

Ferguson participated in an in-person interview at the U.S. Embassy in London on Feb. 18, 2020, and was told that his application for an immigrant visa was complete, according to the lawsuit. Other issue delayed the visa over the ensuing months. Now, more than a year later, he remains stuck in the U.K. with his application in limbo.

“This is a case where you have an employer who has expended a lot of effort recruiting someone and they’ve been caught up in this morass, this mess of bureaucracy,” Spivey said Tuesday.

The visa should have been issued long ago, she said, “but we’re still dealing with hitting our heads against a brick wall. It’s very frustrating.”

The team said it has even enlisted the help of Louisiana U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise to intervene, so far to no avail.

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