Golf’s Rookie of the Year Sungjae Im Doesn’t Actually Have a Home in the United States

Sungjae Im broke out in 2019, being named the Rookie of the Year on the PGA Tour. The 22-year-old South Korean has become a star among golf fans in the United States and beyond — and he did it without even having a home in the U.S.

He goes around the country playing golf, but he doesn’t have a domicile to call his own here. What are the immigration laws in the U.S., and how long can Im stay in the country without having a permanent address? Let’s take a look at the details of the law.

Sungjae Im finds success on the PGA Tour

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Im played in 35 PGA Tour events in 2019, with 29 of them in the U.S. — and he was successful in his first full year on the tour. His debut season saw him make 26 cuts and have seven top-10 finishes.

He led the PGA in birdies and eagles, and he was the only rookie last year to make the Tour Championship — and just the 13th rookie to qualify for the event in the FedExCup era.

His on-course play earned him a captain’s pick for the Presidents Cup. In that event, he went 3-1-0, which included beating U.S. Open champ Gary Woodland.

International athletes in the U.S.

As an international athlete in America, Im can’t stay in the U.S. permanently. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) offers a classification called P-1A Athlete for people like Im.

That classification applies to people who are temporarily coming to the U.S. for the sole purpose of performing at a specific athletic competition. It applies to someone who is:

  • An individual athlete or a member of a team at an at internationally recognized level of performance
  • A professional athlete
  • An amateur coach or athlete part of a U.S.-based team and a member of a foreign league meeting certain requirements

After the USCIS approves a person’s application and he or she is granted the P1-A visa, there are certain periods of stay that are allowed by law, depending on the category that the person falls under.

For Im, who falls into the individual athlete category, his initial period of stay is limited to “the time needed to complete the event, competition, or performance,” but the length of time “cannot exceed five years.”

Im can also apply for an extension of his stay in “increments of up to five years in order to continue or complete the event, competition, or performance.” If any extensions are granted, the total stay is limited to 10 years.

Will Sungjae Im get a permanent address in America?

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Given the guidelines set out by the USCIS, Im can remain in the U.S. for up to 10 years without becoming a U.S. citizen and having a permanent residence if he is granted the full five-year extension of his stay. And he seems to be fine with not having a permanent place to call home.

When Golf World interviewed Im, he told them that he is “living hotel to hotel.” When asked if he has a desire to buy a home in the U.S., Im said he prefers to live hotel to hotel.

When asked why, he explained that he goes back home after, and he stays there for a couple of months. He considers himself to be working when he’s in America, and “prefer[s] to be in hotels here,” then he “get[s] comfortable at home after the season.”

But he doesn’t stay in the hotels alone. Im says is parents travel with him to every event — he gets one hotel room, and they get another. When asked what he does on his off weeks, since he doesn’t have his own place in the U.S., Im said he stays in a hotel and seeks a golf course that will host him for a week so he can get in some practice.