• November 30, 2015

Can I Get a Visa to the U.S. if I am a Professional Athlete?

Internationally recognized athletes and teams may use the P-1 visa to travel to the United States temporarily to compete in a sporting event or training.
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Can I Get a Visa to the U.S. if I am a Professional Athlete?

The P-1A visa is available to athletes across the globe who wish to come to the United States temporarily for a sporting event, training, or to play for a major league American team.

As with all visas, there are strict eligibility requirements for the P-1A visa. USCIS defines the eligible athlete as one who is internationally recognized, or is coming to play on an internationally recognized team.

What is the P-1A Visa?

Internationally recognized athletes and teams may use the P-1 visa to travel to the United States temporarily to compete in a sporting event or training. Individual athletes receive P-1A visas, whereas teams traveling to the U.S. will be granted a P-1 visa.

Unlike other temporary visas, the P-1A does not have a set time period. USCIS will select an appropriate expiration date for your P-1A visa depending on the circumstances of your sponsoring event in the United States. However, without an approved extension of stay, the P-1A visa will not be valid for more than 5 years.

Eligibility For a P-1A Visa

Applicants for P-1A visas can be either individual athletes or team members of athletic teams. In each case, either the individual or the team must be “internationally recognized”. Coaches and integral support staff are eligible for the visa as well. Immediate family members may be able to travel with their athlete to the U.S. under the P-4 visa.

There are many ways to demonstrate to USCIS that you are individually recognized internationally as an athlete, or that your team is internationally recognized. Since international recognition is not easily defined, it is best to work with an immigration attorney.

An applicant must have proper documentation to show USCIS that they are invited or intend to compete in a sporting event in the United States. Athletes may not use the P-1A visa to simply visit America to play sports for leisure [i].

At least two of the following must apply to you to successfully apply for your P-1A Visa:

  • Significant participation in a prior season in major leagues
  • International competition with a national team
  • Significant participation in a prior season for U.S. college or university or intercollegiate competitions
  • Written statement from U.S. official in your sport about you as an athlete or your team’s international recognition
  • Written statement from expert or sport’s media as to your international recognition team or individual ranking
  • Significant honor or award in sport

Families of P-1A Visa Holders

If you have a spouse or unmarried children under 21 years old, they are eligible to travel with you to the United States under a P-4 visa. Their P-4 visa will remain valid as long as your P-1A Visa is valid.

Collegiate Athletes

If you are coming to the United States to play a sport for a university, you will not be eligible for a P-1A visa. As a P-1A visa holder, you are not allowed to be enrolled in an American school more than part-time. Most collegiate athletes coming to the United States would need an F-1 visa as opposed to P-1A.

How To Get A P-1A Visa

As with most visas, you will need a sponsor for a P-1A visa. If you or your team is coming to the United States to compete in tournament or training event that is held by an American organization, that organization will be your sponsor.

Example: Leo Messi of FC Barcelona is invited to compete in a soccer tournament in the United States. The tournament is hosted by Major League Soccer (MLS). Messi, who is competing as an individual, must be sponsored by MLS to be eligible for a P-1A visa.

If you are coming to the United States to play for an American team, the team will be your sponsor and the length of the seasons you have been contracted to play with be the duration of your P-1A visa.

Application Process

To begin the visa process, the sponsoring organization in the U.S. must submit Form I-129 on your behalf. In addition to the I-129, the sponsoring organization should also send USCIS several documents that prove your involvement and period of stay with the organization.

A labor organization that oversees the sports must submit appropriate documents to USCIS in order for the athlete to be compensated for their performance in the United States.

Changing Teams And Sponsors

If you are an athlete in a major league sports organization and you are traded to another team, the new team must file Form I-129 on your behalf, even if your current P-1A visa is not expired.

After Your Visa Petition Is Approved

If USCIS approves your petition for P-1A visa, you and your local embassy will receive a notification of acceptance form, I-797. There is no interview requirement. As soon as your visa is in your passport, you can enter the U.S.

Once you are in the U.S., you may request to extend your stay if your sporting competition or other qualifying event has been extended. The maximum time you can be in the United States on a P-1A visa is 10 years.


[i.]  See 8 CFR §214.1

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