Visa categories for foreign athletes

There are two visa categories for foreign athletes and entertainers to come to the United States for a temporary period of time. The two categories actually mirror each other quite a bit, however the legal standards are different.

P Visas: Athletes and Entertainers

There are two visa categories for foreign athletes and entertainers to come to the United States for a temporary period of time. The two categories actually mirror each other quite a bit, however, the legal standards are different. O visas have a higher legal standard: extraordinary ability; while a P visa requires international recognition. The lower legal standard means that P visas are easier to get and have a lower burden of evidence. Therefore, if an athlete or performer does not qualify for an O visa, they might try for a P visa.

Just like an O Visa, entertainment groups, individual athletes, athletic teams, artists participating in cultural exchange programs, and culturally unique artists are eligible for a P visa. There are three P visa categories, plus one for essential support staff, and another for spouses and children of P visa recipients. The documentation required for evidence depends on which category and the type of performer or entertainer. There can be no intent on behalf of the applicant to permanently remain in the U.S., and so this usually requires the applicant to prove that they are maintaining their foreign residence.

The P Visa for Athletes: The P-1A

A P-1 visa athlete applicant can either be an individual athlete or an athletic team. An individual athlete must be internationally recognized. A team who is coming together must be internationally recognized as outstanding as a team (the focus is on the group’s reputation, not any individual members). To be internationally recognized as an individual athlete, an athlete has to show they have attained a high level of achievement in their sport. They must be well known and a top athlete in multiple countries because their skills are “substantially above” ordinary athletes. The proof required for an athlete or a team to qualify for this visa is that the athlete or team can satisfy at least two of the following seven evidentiary requirements:

  • Participation to a significant extent in a previous season with a U.S. athletic league;
  • Participation in an international competition with a national team;
  • Participation to a significant extent in a previous season for a U.S. college/university in intercollegiate competition (i.e. NCAA);
  • A statement written by an official of the governing body of the sport which explains how the individual athlete or team is internationally recognized;
  • A statement from a member of sports media or a recognized expert which explains how the individual athlete or team is internationally recognized;
  • An individual international ranking (if it exists) or a team ranking; and,
  • A significant award or honor for the individual or for the team.

There you have it. If an individual athlete or team can satisfy at least 2 of these 7 factors, then there is a good chance they will be eligible for a P-1A visa. It should be noted, however, that it is generally much easier for professional athletes to qualify for this visa than amateur athletes. It is not impossible though for an amateur athlete to qualify so you should not feel discouraged if you feel you meet the criteria.

The P Visa for Entertainers: The P-1B

If you are a member of an entertainment group (for example, a band that maybe has not quite reached extraordinary ability status), then you will have to prove a few things in order to qualify for a P visa. The first thing you will have to prove is that the group has been internationally recognized for at least a year. This means that the group must have achieved a high level of achievement in their field of entertainment as “evidenced by a degree of skill and recognition substantially above that ordinarily encountered.” The reputation of the entertainment group and not any individual member is what is important here. To prove that your group is internationally recognized, you will have to show that the group you are associated with either has been nominated for, or has received a significant international award or prize, or be able to meet at least three of the following factors:

  • Your group has performed and will perform as a starring or leading entertainment group in production or events which have a distinguished reputation as evidenced by critical reviews, advertisements, publicity releases, publications, contracts, or endorsements
  • Your group has achieved international recognition and acclaim for outstanding achievement in its field as evidenced by reviews in major newspapers, trade journals, magazines, or other published material
  • Your group has performed and will perform services as a leading or starring group for organizations and establishments that have a distinguished reputation as evidenced by articles in newspapers, trade journals, publications, or testimonials
  • Your group has a record of major commercial or critically acclaimed successes, as evidenced by indicators such as ratings, box office receipts, record, cassette or video sales, and other achievements as reported in trade journals, major newspapers, or other publications
  • Your group has received significant recognition for achievements from critics, organizations, government agencies, or other recognized experts in the field
  • Your group has commanded and will command a high salary or other substantial remuneration for services comparable to others similarly situated in the field, as evidenced by contracts or other reliable evidence

If you can prove that your group has achieved international recognition then you are probably going to qualify for the other major requirements that enable you to have a P-1B visa. The second big thing that you will have to prove is that you are an “integral and essential part of the performance of the entertainment group.”  The final basic requirement is that at least 75% of the members of the group “have had a substantial and sustained relationship with the group for at least one year.” If you can meet these basic requirements and provide an itinerary of dates and venues of performances your group has lined up in the United States, you shouldn’t have any problems obtaining a P-1B visa, as long as the only purpose you and your group have for coming to the United States is performing.

A Few Other P Visas:

The P-1S:

This visa is for an essential support worker. It can be issued to someone who will help the performance of a P-1A athlete or a P-1B Entertainer/group. The support worker must be highly skilled and an integral part of the performance (an example often given is an athletic trainer). You must also show that this worker’s job cannot be readily performed by a U.S. worker. So to continue with the athletic trainer example, you just have to prove why your particular athletic trainer is so important to your specific performance (knows your specific medical needs so well for example).

The P-2:

A P-2 visa applicant is an individual or a group who performs as an artist or an entertainer who is participating in a reciprocal exchange program. That exchange must be the reason you are coming to the U.S. and it must be between an organization in the U.S. and one in one or more other countries. For more information on the P-2 please see the USCIS page on this visa, available here.


A P-3 applicant is an artist or entertainer (individually or as part of a group) who wants to enter the U.S. to develop, interpret, represent, perform, teach, or coach a unique or traditional “ethnic, folk, cultural, musical, theatrical, or artistic performance or presentation.”  The way a person utilizes the P-3 can be commercial or noncommercial, and due to the language of the law with respect to this visa, people can often use this visa category creatively to qualify for a visa when they otherwise wouldn’t be eligible for other visas. One other requirement however is that the events you come to the U.S. to participate in, must: “further the understanding or development of your art form.”  For more information, please see the USCIS page on this visa, available here.

The P-4:

If you receive P-1, 2, or 3 status, you can bring your spouse and children to the U.S. for the duration of your visa. They will receive a P-4 visa. The main difference between a P-4 and P-1, 2, or 3 is that dependents on a  P-4 do not have work authorization, however, they are eligible to go to school or college.

Hopefully after reading this article, you have a basic understanding of the P Visa category and all of the diverse options that it offers to qualifying nonimmigrants, to come to the United States and engage in what they love to do for a temporary amount of time. Qualifying for these visas is not as easy as it may seem, as U.S. immigration law is quite complex and nuanced. Therefore, it should be emphasized that there is no substitute for the help of an experienced immigration attorney, in soliciting a P visa. Thank you for reading!

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