What Are the U.S. Visa Options for Professional Athletes?

The P Visa and the O Visa are two of the most common visas used by immigrants who want to participate in athletic events in the U.S.

If you are a professional athlete and would like to enter the United States to compete in a special event, there are several temporary visa options that you may apply for, including the P visa and the O visa.

Since each of these visas are different, we will give you an overview of each below.

What is the P-1 visa?

The P-1A visa is a temporary work visa especially for athletes that are scheduled to perform at an athletic event in the U.S. 

The P-1A Athletic Visa can be used by an individual athlete or by a team but it is not for all athletes. You must be very popular in your sport. 

To prove that you have reached the level of popularity required for the P-1A visa, you must have a contract with a U.S. sports league or team and at least two of the following:

  • Proof that your received a big honor in your sport
  • Proof that you are highly ranked in your sport
  • Proof that you were a participant in a college competition in the U.S.
  • Proof that you were a participant in an international competition
  • Proof that you were a participant in a previous season of a U.S. sports league
  • Proof that you receive a high salary due to your reputation
  • A letter explaining your international reputation from a well-known member of your sport

How Long Can I Stay in the U.S. on a P-1A Visa?

As an individual athlete, you may stay in the United States for the length of time needed to complete your event as long as it is not more than five years. If your event happens to last for more than five years, you may apply to USCIS for an extension but your total stay cannot exceed ten years.

If you apply as an athletic group, your group may stay in the United States for the length of time it takes to complete the competition but no longer than one year. If the event lasts for more than one year, the group may apply for one-year extensions until the event is finished.

What is the O-1 visa?

The O-1 Visa for Individuals with Extraordinary Ability is similar to the P-1A visa but it cannot be used by athletic groups, only individual athletes. 

It too is for nationally recognized individuals that would like to enter the United States for a special event but it covers a variety of different professions. 

The O-1 visa can be broken into two categories: the O-1A visa and the O-1B visa. The O-1A visa, in particular, covers athletes. 

To qualify for the O-1A visa as an athlete, you must have three of the following:

  • Proof that your received a national or international award in your sport
  • Proof that you are a member of an organization that recognizes achievements in your field
  • Proof that you receive a high salary due to your reputation
  • Proof that you have received national or international recognition in your sport
  • Proof that you have made a scholarly or business related contribution to your field
  • Proof that your work has been published

How Long Can I Stay in the U.S. on an O-1A Visa?

Unlike the P-1A visa. the longest you can stay in the United States on an O-1A visa is three years.  If you need to stay for longer, you can apply to USCIS for an extension.

How Do I Apply For an Athletic Visa?

While the two visa options require that applicants meet different requirements, the application for each of the visas is actually the same. 

The application to apply for the visas is Form I-129 Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker, but before you attempt to fill out the application, you must first obtain a United States sponsor.

This is because, unlike many other visas, you cannot apply for these visas on your own, but your sponsor applies for you.

Once you have a U.S. sponsor, the entire application process is about three steps for an O or P visa:

  • Your U.S. employer files the I-129 petition on your behalf. If you are already in the United States lawfully, this petition will change your status to the visa you are applying for and that is all that has to be done.
  • If you are not in the United States, you must take your approved visa petition to the U.S. Consulate or Embassy in your home county to get your visa.
  • Once you have your visa, you may enter the United States for your event and claim your status.

Conclusion

The visa options above are those most commonly used for immigrants wishing to engage in athletic events in the United States. Other options may also be available to you.

For this reason, you may wish to speak to an immigration attorney if you are coming to the U.S. to participate in an athletic event.

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