P-1 Visa For Internationally Recognized Athletes:

An Overview


The United States attracts world’s top athletes in a variety of athletic sports, including baseball, ice hockey, soccer, basketball, golf and tennis. The P-1 Visa for internationally recognized athletes is a popular visa option for athletes.

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This article provides an overview of the 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.

P-1 Visa For Internationally Recognized Athletes

A. The P-1 Visa USA: Who Qualifies?

The P-1 visa requirements that internationally recognized athletes or athletic teams must generally satisfy while seeking the P-1A visa classification are:

  1. If applying as an individual, 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;
  2. If applying as a team, 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.

B. The P-1 Visa Process For Foreign Athletes

To begin the P-1 athlete visa process for foreign 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 P-1 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:

1.In respect to individual athletes, evidence that the athlete has achieved international recognition in the sport based on his or her reputation


2.In respect to athletic teams, evidence that the team as a unit has achieved international recognition in the sport

3.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

4.Documentation of at least two of the following:

a.Evidence of having participated to a significant extent in a prior season with a major United States sports league;

b.Evidence of having participated in international competition with a national team;

c.Evidence of having participated to a significant extent in a prior season for a U.S. college or university in intercollegiate competition;

d.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;

e.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;

f.Evidence that the foreign athlete or team is ranked if the sport has international rankings; or

g.Evidence that the foreign athlete or team has received a significant honor or award in the sport

5.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.

6.An itinerary showing the scheduled plan of events.

NOTE: National Hockey League Personnel and Major League Baseball Personnel may be exempt from having to prove eligibility for the P-1 and can simply submit their major league contract to show eligibility for the P-1 (this includes those in the Minor Leagues).

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C. Admission Into The U.S. On A P-1 Visa

Once the P-1 petition is approved by USCIS, the athletes may apply for the P-1 visa at an appropriate U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

On a P-1 visa, the athlete or athletic team should be admitted to the United States for the time needed to complete the event, competition or performance(s). Such period, however, shall not exceed five years for individual athletes and one year for athletic groups and essential support personnel.

D. P-4 Visa For The Family Members of US 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.


Advantages of P-1 Visa

1. Admission is for the period of time required to complete the event(s), to be no longer than 5 years for individuals and 1 year for athletic teams.

2. Qualification criteria not as high as the O-1.

3. Spouse and children can qualify for P-4 dependent visa.

Limitations of P-1 Visa

1. International recognition is a prerequisite.

2. Prior approval of a petition by USCIS is necessary.

E. 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 P-1 visa petition. If, however, a P-1 athlete in the U.S. wishes to change the sponsoring entity, the new sponsor must file a 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 instances 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.

Dual Intent

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.


Foreign athletes who want to come to the US to compete or perform in the US have a range of US visa options to choose from. The key is to choose the best option that matches the athletes’ abilities and purpose of the trip.

The P-1 visa for foreign athletes offers many advantages and benefits. Unlike artists and entertainers, athletes can seek a P-1 visa either individually or as a team. 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.

Visa Pro’s best immigration attorneys in USA can help you evaluate your scenario, and identify the most suitable visa option for your situation.

Contact VisaPro immigration lawyers if you have any questions regarding the P-1A visa, or any other type of visa for international athletes or athletic teams. Our experienced attorneys will be happy to assist you.

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