Visas for Athletes and Entertainers

By Nancy Miller and Michael Bhotiwihok

Foreign athletes and entertainers who need to temporarily travel to the United States for work often utilize the O and P nonimmigrant visa classifications.

The O visa is available to foreign nationals with extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, athletics, or in motion pictures and television.  Extraordinary ability means “a level of expertise indicating that the person is one of a small percentage who has risento the very top of their field of endeavor.”O visas are reserved exclusively for individuals of the highest ability and achievements who are temporarily coming to work in their field of endeavor in the United States.

For athletes and entertainers who are unable to meet the extraordinary ability echelon, the P visa becomes the preferred nonimmigrant visa.  The P visa is generally available to foreign nationals who are internationally recognized athletes or a member of an internationally recognized entertainment group, and temporarily need to work for a specific event or purpose in the United States. Internationally recognized is defined as “having a high level of achievement in a field evidenced by a degree of skill and recognition substantially above that ordinarily encountered, to the extent that such achievement is renowned, leading, or well-known in more than one country.”

The P visa comes in four categories: P-1A: Internationally Recognized Athlete; P-1B: Member of an Internationally Recognized Entertainment Group, P-2: Individual Performer or Part of a Group to Perform under a Reciprocal Exchange Program; and P-3: Artist or Entertainer Coming to be Part of a Culturally Unique Program.Spouses and children of a P visa holder are eligible for a P-4 visa.  P-4 visa holders are not authorized for employment, but may attend school or college in the United States.  Essential Support Personnel, “who are an integral part of the performance of a P-1 athlete or team, and who perform support services which cannot be readily performed by a U.S. worker,” may obtain P visas.
Most P visa holders’ initial periods of stay cannot exceed 1 year, however extensions of stay are available in 1 year increments.  Alonger initial period of stay of up to 5 yearsis providedfor P-1A individual athlete and essential support personnel.

The P-1 visa category applies to the foreign athlete, sports teams, and entertainment groups.The P-1A Athlete visa is available to an individual for a specific athletic competition or as part of a team event at an internationally recognized level of performance.

The P-1B Entertainment Group visa is available to a member of an entertainment group that is internationally recognized.  It applies only to a member of a group not an individual. The reputation of the group, not the individual, must be internationally recognized. An additional requirement that at least 75% of the group’s members performed together for at least 1 year is necessary to qualify for the visa.  A dance troupe and jazz quartet are examples of entertainment groups.  Circus performers are exempt from the one year performance and internationally recognized standard requirements when joining a nationally recognized circus in the United States.

Through the COMPETE ACT of 2006, Congress expanded the P-1 visa category for athletes and entertainers by creating three categories which were no longer restricted by the internationally recognized standard.   The new P-1 visa categories include 1) Professional Athletes employed by teams in professional leagues with 6 or more teams whose combined revenue exceeds $10,000,000 per year or minor leagues team affiliated with the professional leagues; 2) Athletes and coaches performing with teams or franchises located in the United States that are part of international amateur leagues of 15 teams and; 3) Amateur or professional ice skaters who perform in theatrical ice skating productions or tours.

The seldom used P-2 Reciprocal Exchange Program visa applies to an internationally recognized individual or group participating in a government recognized reciprocal exchange program between an organization in the United State and an organization in a foreign country.

The P-3 Culturally Unique visa is available to an individual or group that will develop, interpret, represent, coach, or teach a unique or traditional ethnic, folk, cultural, musical, theatrical, or artistic performance or presentation which may be commercial or noncommercial. The individual or group must participate in an event in the United States which will further the understanding and development of the cultural art form.  Polynesia dance performers are an example of a culturally unique group.

The P visa application process requires a United States company, organization or agent to petition for the foreign national.As each P visa category requires different forms of documentary evidence, athletes and entertainers interested in a P visa should speak with an experienced and knowledgeable immigration attorney for an evaluation of their case before beginning the application process.