Leno Racing, a registered U.S. cycling team, wanted to sign up Sebastien Perrot, a French national, and have him come to the U.S. to compete with them in various cycling events. A major question they had in their minds, however, was which U.S. visa to utilize to bring Sebastien to the U.S. As Sebastien was a professional cyclist and would be receiving remuneration for performing in the U.S., a visitor visa would not suit their requirements or intent. Also, while he was internationally recognized, his record of achievement had not reached the levels required for the O-1 Extraordinary Ability visa. So, when they came to know through their friends in the industry that a P-1 visa for athletes may suit Sebastien’s and Leno Racing’s needs, they set out to find out more about the U.S. visa for athletes, the P-1A visa for Internationally Recognized Athletes and Athletic Teams.
So, what is a P-1A visa? What are the P-1A visa requirements? Does Sebastien qualify for a P-1A visa?
The P-1 classification can be divided into two categories—P-1A and P-1B:
- The P-1A category applies to internationally recognized athletes coming to the U.S. temporarily (individually or as a team) to perform at a specific athletic competition, at an internationally recognized level of performance;
- The P-1B category applies to foreign nationals coming to the U.S. temporarily to perform as a member of an entertainment group that has been recognized internationally as outstanding in the discipline for a sustained and substantial period of time.
An important feature of the P-1 visa classification is that internationally recognized athletes are eligible to seek a P-1A visa either individually or as a team. This is unlike artists and entertainers, however, where the P-1B visa is only open to entertainers and individuals who are members of internationally recognized entertainment groups. Finally, Essential Support Personnel who are an integral part of the performance of a P-1 athlete or athletic team and who perform support services which cannot be readily performed by a U.S. worker are also eligible for P-1 visa classification. Thus, coaches, scouts, trainers and other team officials and referees may seek a P-1 visa as Essential Support Personnel if otherwise qualified.
We present this article for the benefit of our readers, internationally recognized athletes and athletic teams who would like to come to the U.S. temporarily to play/compete in the U.S., and U.S. employers who would like to bring such athletes and athletic groups to play/compete in the U.S. This article contains an introduction to the P-1A visa for Internationally Recognized Athletes, an overview of the USA P-1A visa requirements, the P-1 visa process, as well as a few important features of the P-1 visa for athletes and their support personnel.
The P-1 Visa Requirements for Internationally Recognized Athletes
The key P-1 visa requirements that internationally recognized athletes and athletic teams must generally satisfy while seeking the P-1A visa classification are:
- The individual athlete must be an internationally recognized athlete based on his or her own reputation and achievements as an individual. He or she must demonstrate a degree of skill and recognition substantially above that ordinarily encountered so that the achievement is renowned, leading or well known in more than one country;
- The individual athlete must be coming to the United States to perform services which require an internationally recognized athlete. He or she must be coming to the U.S. to participate in individual events, competition or performances in which he or she is internationally recognized with a high level of achievement;
- The athletic team, as a unit, must be internationally recognized as outstanding in the discipline and must be coming to perform services which require an internationally recognized athletic team. The foreign athletic team must have achieved significant international recognition in the sport. Athletes who are members of such an internationally recognized athletic team may be granted P-1 visa classification based on that relationship. However, they cannot perform services separate and apart from the athletic team in the U.S.;
- The individual athlete or members of the athletic team must have a residence in a foreign country which he or she has no intention of abandoning.
The P-1 Visa Process for Internationally Recognized Athletes
To begin the P-1 visa process for internationally recognized athletes and athletic teams, the U.S. Sponsoring entity that intends to bring the athlete or the athletic team into the U.S. must first submit Form I-129, Petition for a Non-Immigrant Worker to USCIS. The I-129 petition must include the names of the beneficiaries, and may not be filed more than one year before the actual need for the athlete or the athletic team’s services in the U.S.
Note 1: A P-1 petition can only be filed by a U.S. employer, a U.S. sponsoring organization, a U.S. agent, or a foreign employer through a U.S. agent.
Note 2: Essential support personnel cannot be included on the P-1 petition filed for principal athletes or members of an athletic team. A separate petition needs to be filed for such qualified essential support personnel seeking a P-1 Essential Support Personnel visa classification.
A petition for P1 visa classification for internationally recognized athletes and members of an internationally recognized athletic team, submitted to the USCIS as above, must be accompanied by the following evidence, among others:
- In respect to individual athletes, evidence that the athlete has achieved international recognition in the sport based on his or her reputation
- In respect to athletic teams, evidence that the team as a unit has achieved international recognition in the sport
- A written contract with a major U.S. sports league or team, or a written contract in an individual sport commensurate with international recognition in that sport, if such contracts are normally executed in the sport
- Documentation of at least two of the following:
- Evidence of having participated to a significant extent in a prior season with a major United States sports league;
- Evidence of having participated in international competition with a national team;
- Evidence of having 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 the alien or team is internationally recognized;
- A written statement from a member of the sports media or a recognized expert in the sport which details how the foreign athlete or team is internationally recognized;
- Evidence that the foreign athlete or team is ranked if the sport has international rankings; or
- Evidence that the foreign athlete or team has received a significant honor or award in the sport
- A written consultation from an appropriate labor organization
Note: Consultation with an appropriate labor organization that has expertise in the area of the foreign athlete’s sport regarding the nature of the work to be done and the athlete/athletic team’s qualifications is mandatory before a P-1 petition can be approved. The consultation or “advisory opinion” must be in writing, signed by an authorized official of the organization and must generally be submitted to the USCIS along with the petition when the petition is filed. Alternatively, a labor organization may also submit a letter of no objection if it has no objection to the approval of the petition. In cases where the petitioner can establish that an appropriate labor organization does not exist, USCIS may decide the application on the basis of the evidence on record.
- An explanation of the event and itinerary
Q: Adam is a professional boxer who has been living and working in the U.S. for the past 2 years on a P-1A athlete visa. He recently got engaged to a U.S. Citizen and they are planning to get married in a couple of months. Adam plans to continue living and participating in professional fights after marriage. Can he seek permanent resident status after his marriage to the U.S. Citizen?
A: Yes, a P1 visa holder residing in the U.S. may, if otherwise qualified, apply for Adjustment of Status and lawfully seek to become a permanent resident of the U.S. In this case, Adam’s marriage to a U.S. Citizen will qualify him to file for Adjustment of Status as the spouse of a U.S. Citizen. Hence, they may begin a Green Card case for him after his marriage to the U.S. Citizen.
Admission into the U.S. on a P-1 Visa
If the P-1A petition and change of status application is approved, and if the beneficiaries of the petition are in the U.S. in another visa status (B-2, for example), then they may be able to remain in the U.S. and commence performing pursuant to P-1A status. If, however, the athletes or the essential support personnel are outside the U.S., then they must apply for and obtain a P1A athletes visa from a U.S. Embassy or Consulate outside the U.S. upon approval of the P-1A petition before they can travel to the U.S. and seek admission under the P-1 athlete visa classification.
Under the P-1A classification, internationally recognized athletes and athletic groups are initially admitted for a period of time that is determined to be necessary to complete the event, competition, or performance for which they are coming to the U.S., Such period, however, shall not exceed five years for individual athletes and one year for athletic groups and essential support personnel.
P-4 Visa for the family members of P-1 Visa Holders
The spouse and unmarried children under the age of 21 of a P-1 athlete or essential support personnel are entitled to seek P-4 visa classification. If they are accompanying or following to join the P visa holder in the U.S., they will be subject to the same period of admission and limitations as the P-1 athlete or essential support personnel. Individuals in P-4 status shall not accept employment, but may attend school or college.
After Admission into the U.S.
Change of Employers
While in the U.S., a P-1 athlete and essential support personnel are allowed to work only for the entity that sponsored his or her P1 visa petition. If, however, a P-1 athlete in the U.S. wishes to change the sponsoring entity, the new sponsor must file a new petition, and, if necessary, request to extend the foreign national’s stay in the U.S. The foreign national athlete cannot commence employment with the new employer or sponsor until the new petition has been approved.
Note: In the case of professional P-1 athletes who are traded from one organization to another, employment authorization for the player will automatically continue for a period of 30 days after acquisition by the new organization, within which time the new organization is expected to file a new P-1 petition. If the new petition is not filed within 30 days, employment authorization will cease. If the new petition is filed within 30 days, the professional athlete shall be deemed to be in valid P-1 status, and employment shall continue to be authorized, until the petition is adjudicated. If the new petition is denied, employment authorization will cease.
Extension of Stay
An extension of stay may be sought on behalf of P-1 athletes, athletic teams and essential support personnel in the U.S. to enable them continue or complete the same event or activity for which they were admitted into the U.S. Extensions of stay may be authorized for a period of up to 5 years for individual athletes and their essential support personnel. However, their total stay in the U.S. is limited to 10 years. In the case of athletic teams and their essential support personnel, an extension of stay may be authorized in increments of up to 1 year to enable them to continue or complete the event, competition or performance.
The doctrine of “dual intent” appears to be informally recognized for foreign national athletes and athletic groups coming to the U.S. under the P-1A visa classification. This, however, does not apply to essential support personnel. Generally, the approval of a permanent labor certification or the filing of an immigrant visa petition should not be a basis for denying a P-1A petition for an athlete, a request to extend such a petition, or his or her admission or change of status. Regulations permit foreign national athletes to legitimately come to the U.S. for a temporary period on a P-1 visa for athletes and depart voluntarily at the end of his or her authorized stay and, at the same time, lawfully seek to become a permanent resident of the United States. It is important to remember that this does not apply to P-1 essential support personnel.
Termination of Services
If the employment of a P-1 athlete or essential support personnel is terminated for reasons other than voluntary resignation, then the employer and/or the U.S. Petitioner are liable to pay for the reasonable cost of return transportation to the beneficiary’s residence abroad.
As seen in the forgoing, the P-1 visa classification is available to both, internationally recognized athletes coming to the U.S. temporarily to perform at a specific athletic competition, at an internationally recognized level of performance and foreign national entertainers coming to the U.S. temporarily to perform as a member of an entertainment group that has been recognized internationally as outstanding in the discipline for a sustained and substantial period of time. It is also available to Essential Support Personnel who are an integral part of the performance of a P-1 athlete (team) and who performs support services which cannot be readily performed by a U.S. worker.
The P1A visa classification for athletes offers many advantages and benefits for internationally recognized athletes and athletic groups. Unlike artists and entertainers, athletes can seek a P-1 visa either individually or as a team. The spouse and unmarried minor children of a P-1 visa holder can stay in the U.S. in P-4 status with the P-1 foreign national as long as he or she maintains his P-1 status. Those on P-4 visa classification cannot engage in any employment. Foreign nationals in P-1 status can engage in part-time study and those in P-4 status can study full-time. Further, there are no travel restrictions for those on the P-1 visa. P-1 athletes and essential support personnel and their families can freely travel in and out of the U.S. as long as their visa stamp and status are valid.
After consulting with immigration experts, managers of Leno Racing understood that they needed to demonstrate that Sebastien was an internationally recognized athlete to successfully file a P-1 petition for him. Further, they also have to obtain a written consultation from an appropriate labor organization before they could file a P-1 petition for him. Becoming aware of the requirements, they set out to gather and compile all the necessary documentation that would ensure a successful P-1 filing for Sebastien.
Contact VisaPro if you have any questions regarding the P-1A visa for internationally recognized athletes, or any other type of visas for athletes or athletic teams. Our experienced attorneys will be happy to assist you.
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