P-1A Visas For Foreign National Athletes
Are you a foreign national athlete? If you are a professional athlete or an elite amateur athlete, who wants to temporarily come to the United States to live and compete in your sport (you don’t want to live here permanently), then there are three visa options that could possibly allow you to obtain your goals. If you just wish to come and compete in a tournament or event (where your only U.S. remuneration would be prize money), or a short-term training program, you can often accomplish this with a B-1 Business Visitor Visa (or no visa, if you are from a visa waiver country). This would allow you to stay in the U.S. for up to 180 days, for “business-related” travel.
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If you are an athlete that either wants to stay longer than 180 days or receive a salary while you are here (say for example, you have a job offer), then you generally will need to apply for either: an O Visa (for athletes with extraordinary abilities or achievement); or for a P Visa, for athletes that are “internationally recognized.” These visas are very similar in reality, however it is harder to obtain an O Visa. To get an O Visa as an athlete, you will have to be able to show that you are one of the few professional athletes at the very top of your sport. Very few professional athletes can meet the criteria to qualify for an O Visa (which allows the athlete an initial stay of 3 years), but many more can satisfy the requirement for a P-1A Visa. For information about the O Visa, please see our O Visa page. To learn more about the P-1A Visa for athletes, continue reading.
The P-1A Visa qualifies an individual athlete or an entire athletic team of athletes, to come to the United States to compete in their sport, on the basis of their “international recognition.”
For an individual athlete to qualify for a P-1A Visa, then they must be an athlete that is internationally recognized. To establish that you are internationally recognized as an individual athlete, then you must be able to satisfy at least two of the following evidentiary requirements:
- Evidence that you participated to a significant extent in a prior season with a major United States sports league;
- Evidence that you participated to a significant extent in international competition with a national team;
- Evidence that you participated to a significant extent in a prior season for a U.S. college or university in intercollegiate competition;
- A written statement from an official of a major U.S. sports league or an official of the governing body of the sport which details how you are internationally recognized;
- A written statement from a member of the sports media or a recognized expert in the sport which details how you are internationally recognized;
- Evidence that you are ranked, if your sport has international rankings; and/or,
- Evidence that you have received a significant honor or award in the sport.
If you are an individual athlete coming to join a professional U.S. team or participate in a professional U.S. league, then generally USCIS is also going to want to see some sort of contract to evidence this (if contracts are customary in your sport). As with the P-1B Visa for entertainers, you are also going to have to provide an explanation of the event or an itinerary for the events you seek to enter the U.S. for, as well as a written consultation letter from an appropriate U.S.-based labor organization, attesting to your qualifications as an internationally recognized athlete and explaining the nature of your future work in the United States. For a USCIS-provided list of qualifying labor organizations that can provide these letters, please click here.
The criteria for a whole athletic team to qualify for a P-1A Visa, is very similar to the criteria for individual athletes. However, it is the reputation of the team as “internationally recognized” that is important (not the individual reputation of athletes on the team). For an athletic team to qualify for a P-1A, the team must be able to satisfy at least two of the following factors:
- Proof that the team has participated significantly with a major U.S. sports league;
- A written statement by an official in the governing body of the sport, or from an official of a major U.S. sports league detailing the team’s international recognition;
- A written statement from a member of sports media or another recognized expert in the sport, detailing the team’s international recognition;
- Evidence the team is ranked internationally (if the sport has international rankings); and/or,
- Evidence the team has received a significant honor or award in their sport.
Just as for individual athletes, athletic teams that qualify for P-1As will generally need to submit a written consultation letter from an appropriate U.S. labor organization (click here for a USCIS list of these organizations), attesting to the teams international recognition and the nature of the work they will be performing in the United States. Also, the team will need to submit a description of the event they wish to participate in/an itinerary of the events/competitions they seek to enter the United States to participate in.
How does the P-1A application process work?
In addition to the written consultation letter, somebody is going to have to submit a I-129, Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker, on you or your team’s behalf. This can be submitted by a U.S. employer (think U.S. Professional Sport Team), or alternatively by a U.S. “agent.” We know that many foreign athletes who participate in individual sports (tennis or golf for example), may have their own foreign agent, and won’t be interested in hiring a true “U.S. agent.” Luckily, there are various ways to address this issue of agency, and we at Zontlaw can be of assistance in satisfying this requirement. The other thing you will need to have is some level of organization with regards to your U.S. plans, as USCIS will want to see an itinerary. If you have an offer to be on a U.S. sports team, then this should be easy as a team schedule will probably largely suffice. If you are an individual athlete participating in an individual sport (tennis or golf, for example), then you will be required to have a higher level of organization with respect to your plans when applying (a schedule of tournaments for example).
With that you have the basic requirements to obtaining a P-1A Visa as an internationally recognized athlete. This visa can be issued for athletic teams for up to a year, and for individual athletes for up to 5 years. However, the P-1A Visa is generally not issued for longer than required for the athlete or team to complete the competitions or events that are the basis of the visa application. You will be eligible to apply for extensions however, in one year increments for athletic teams for the extra time necessary to complete their competitions; and for individual athletes in increments up to 5 years (but again generally limited to the time necessary to complete your competition). Individual athletes are limited to a total stay of 10 years however, on this visa status. You will generally be able to bring your “essential support” staff (personal) with you on P-1S visas to work (think athletic trainers), and your dependent family members (spouse and unmarried children under 21) as P-4s. P-4s are not eligible to work while in the U.S., but they can study.
If you believe that the P-1A might be the right visa for you, our experienced Zontlaw legal team is more than capable of helping you to apply for this. Contact us, today!
How long can I stay in the U.S. on P-1 work visa?
You may stay in the U.S. for up to five years with extensions not to exceed a total stay of ten years.
Can I bring my dependents?
Yes, spouse and unmarried children under 21 may apply for P-4 visa
Can P-1 holder apply for adjustment of status?
Yes, you can apply for Green card to become a permanent resident of the U.S.
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