Visas for Athletes and Performing Artists

by Attorneys Robert L. Reeves and Anthony J. Favero

 Under U.S. immigration law, athletes and performing artists are eligible for temporary, non-immigrant visas known as “P-visas.” The P-visa category is broken down into four groups, (1) internationally recognized athletes (“P-1A”); (2) internationally recognized entertainers (“P-1B”); (3) artists and entertainers entering the United States through a reciprocal exchange program (“P-2”); and (4) artists and entertainers involved in performing, teaching, or coaching a culturally unique program (“P-3”).  The law also provides temporary, non-immigrant visas to the spouses and children of P-visa holders (“P-4”).  All P-visa holders must enter the United States to participate in a specific event, performance, or program.

 The P-1A classification applies to individuals traveling to the U.S. to participate in a specific athletic competition either individually or as part of a team.  The competition must be at an internationally recognized level of performance or competition.  Applicants for P-1A visas must provide an application form, a copy of a contract with a major U.S. sports league or team, a description of the event or competition in which the athlete is participating, and evidence the athlete is indeed internationally recognized.  Individual athletes admitted on P-1A visas are granted up to a five year stay while teams are provided only one year in the U.S.

 The P-1B classification applies to internationally recognized entertainers.  Only groups internationally known as outstanding in their discipline are eligible for P-1B visas.  In addition, at least 75 percent of the group’s members must have been with the group for the past year.  Groups admitted on P-1B visas are permitted to remain in the U.S. for as long as necessary to complete their event or performance.  However, this period cannot to exceed 1 year.

 Artists entering the United States through government recognized reciprocal exchange programs are eligible for P-2 visas.  P-2 visa holders must possess skills comparable to the United States’ artists and entertainers taking part in the exchange program.  Applicants for P-2 visas must provide an application form, a copy of the formal reciprocal exchange agreement between their country and the United States, a statement from the sponsoring organization describing the reciprocal exchange of United States artists or entertainers, a description of the events in which the artist is participating, and evidence that an appropriate U.S. labor organization was involved in forming the exchange program.  Individuals admitted on P-2 visas are provided up to one year in the United States.

 P-3 visas are reserved for individuals or groups coming to the United States to develop, interpret, coach, or teach a unique or traditional ethnic, folk, cultural, musical, theatrical, or artistic performance or presentation.  P-3 visa holders must enter the U.S. to participate in a cultural event that will further the understanding or development of their art form. Those applying for P-3 visas must provide an application form, an explanation of the cultural event or performance, any contracts related to said event or performance, proof of the authenticity of the performance, and evidence that the performance is culturally unique.  P-3 visas provide up to one year in the United States. 

 Support personnel essential to a P-visa holder’s performance can also be admitted to the United States.  Support personnel may include coaches, scouts, trainers, team officials, or referees.  In addition, spouses and children of P-visa holders may obtain P-4 status.  During their stay, such dependents may attend school or college, but are prohibited from working.

 The application process for all P-visas is quite complex and requires extensive, detailed evidentiary support.  However, P-visas are a very viable way to enter the United States for qualified athletes and performing artists.  If you or a family member may satisfy the criteria detailed above, contact a qualified immigration attorney for an evaluation of the case.