US Visa For Athletes:

B-1, B-2, H-1B, H-2B, O-1 And P-1 Visas


Money, fame and autograph hunters go hand in hand with top athletes who have practiced their sport all over the world. But they often-times find themselves out of their league when it comes time to apply for a US visa.

The key to winning the U.S. immigration game lies in working with a dream team of US visa options for Athletes- the B, H, O, and P visa categories.  Here, we present a brief overview of the US visa options for Athletes.

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The B-1 Visa For Athletes

The B-1 Business Visitor Visa allows for “business-related” travel to the U.S. Generally, an individual is permitted to enter the US as a B-1 Business Visitor if their visit will include business activities that are professional or commercial purposes.  Examples include contract negotiations, participation in scientific, educational, professional or business conventions, conferences or seminars or participating in short-term training. A visitor on the B-1 visa is generally permitted to stay in the U.S. for up to six months and may not engage in productive labor or employment in the United States.

There are 3 classes of foreign national athletes that can enter the U.S. using the B-1 Visa for athletes—individual professional athletes, athletes or team members who are a part of a foreign based team and amateur hockey player.

1.Individual Professional Athletes who will not receive any salary, except prize money, can come to the US on the B-1 Visa to participate in a sporting event or competition.

2.Athletes or team members of a foreign-based team can come to the US on the B-1 visa provided:

a.the athlete and the team are principally based in a foreign country;

b.the foreign team and players’ income and salaries are principally earned in the foreign country; and

c.the foreign-based sports team is part of an international league or the actual sporting events are international in nature.

3.Amateur Hockey Players may come to the U.S. on the B-1 visa if they are coming to the U.S. for try-outs during the professional season or during playoffs. The hockey player needs to be able to present a “memorandum of agreement” between himself and the National Hockey League. The US team can only play for round-trip airfare, room, board and transportation.

Athletes from Visa Waiver Program eligible countries do not have to obtain a B-1 visa at the U.S. Consulate and can enter the U.S. as Business Visitors under the program.

The B-2 Visa For Athletes

The B-2 Visitor Visa allows for travel to the U.S. for “pleasure”. Generally, an individual is permitted to enter the US as a B-2 Visitor if their trip will include visiting family, relatives, friends, or acquaintances, or for traveling throughout the United States. A visitor on the B-2 visa is generally permitted to stay in the U.S. for up to six months and may not engage in productive labor or employment in the United States.

Amateur athletes are permitted to enter the U.S. on a B-2 visa if they are coming to the U.S. to participate in a competition or for a social or charitable event.  Amateur athletes are by definition not members of any of the professions associated with that activity and normally perform without remuneration (other than an allotment for expenses).

Professional athletes cannot come to the U.S. as a B-2 visitor even if they are not being compensated in the U.S. as they are not “amateur” athletes, by definition.

The B-1 or B-2 Visas for are a great pair of options for qualifying athletes as they don’t require prior petition approval from USCIS.  It’s a great option for athletes coming to the U.S. for the occasional competition or event and don’t plan on being in the U.S. long term.

The P-1 Visa For Athletes

The P-1 visa category allows athletes who are Internationally Recognized to the come to the U.S. to participate in athletic events, competitions or performances. The P-1 visa is open to both individual athletes as well as sports teams:

  1. Individual athletes must be Internationally recognized, i.e. they need to possess 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. Sports teams must also be in internationally recognized and the event the team is participating in must also require that the participating or competing teams be internationally recognized.

The P-1S visa category is available to Essential Support Personnel who are accompanying the P-1 athlete or team and who are an “integral” part of the athlete’s or team’s event(s) or performance.  Coaches, managers, referees, and trainers may be eligible for the P-1S if they can show that they have skills that are critical and essential to the P-1 athlete or team.

Individual team members on a P-1 petition for a team can be substituted at the consulate or port of entry (when visa exempt). It should be noted that all groups qualified for P status may benefit from the substitution procedures; however qualified support personnel cannot be substituted.

Period of Admission

The periods of validity for approved P petitions are as follows:

  1. P-1 individual athlete – up to five years.
  2. P-1 athletic team – period of time to be determined by USCIS to be necessary to complete the competition or event, not to exceed one year;
  3. Essential support personnel to P-1 aliens – period of time to complete the event, activity, or performance for which the P-1 alien is admitted, not to exceed one year.

NOTE:  An extension of stay for a P-1 individual athlete and his or her essential support personnel may be authorized for a period of up to five years for a total period of stay not to exceed ten years. An extension of stay may be authorized in increments of one year for P-l athletic teams.

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The P-1 Visa And The COMPETE Act

Pop Quiz

I’m accompanying a professional golfer on tour to the United States. What type of visa do I require?

Provided you are customarily employed by the golfer and not just hired to accompany him or her for this particular tournament, the golfer is competing in tournaments for prize money only and you will continue to be paid by your employer, you will require a B-1 visa, or you may enter on the VWP.

If the professional golfer is applying for an O or P visa, you should apply for an O-2 or P-1 visa as essential personnel to accompany him or her.

The O-1 Visa For Athletes

The O-1 visa category allows individual athletes with Extraordinary Ability in athletics to come to the U.S. to participate or compete in events that are in the area of extraordinary ability. The O-1 is not available for sports teams unless each member of the team individually qualifies.

Extraordinary athletes can qualify for the O-1 visa if they can demonstrate that they have sustained national or international acclaim and have risen to the top of their fields.

The O-2 visa category is available to those accompanying the O-1 athlete and who are an “integral” part of the athlete’s event(s) or performance. Coaches, managers and/or trainers may be eligible for the O-2 if they can show that they have skills that are critical and essential to the O-1 athlete.

A professional athlete in the US in O-1, P-1 status or H-2B who is traded from one team or organization to another is automatically entitled to work for 30 days after the trade or acquisition, provided a new I-129 petition is filed within that period. Once the new petition has been filed, the athlete will continue to be authorized to work until the new petition is adjudicated by the USCIS.

See additional restrictions below for H-2B athletes.

Period of Admission

USCIS determines the period of validity of the approved O-1 and O-2 petitions depending on the amount of time needed to complete the “event” or activity, but it will not exceed 3 years.

Extensions of stay may be approved in increments of no more than 1 year at a time, indefinitely.

Pop Quiz
Rodney is a professional tennis player/golfer/race car driver. What type of visa is suitable for him?

If he is coming to the U.S. to compete in a tournament or sporting event for which he will receive no salary or payment from a U.S. source, other than prize money, he will require a B-1 visa, or may travel without a visa if otherwise qualified for the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). If his proposed activities are not exactly as described, he will require an O or P visa.

The H-2B Visa For Athletes

The H-2B visa category allows athletes to come to the U.S. to compete or participate in events if the employer or sponsor can show that the need for the athlete is a one-time need or a seasonal, peak load or intermittent need. The H-2B is suitable for athletes who may not qualify for the P-1 or O-1 visas. The H-2B visa is popular among minor league athletes.

Unlike the P-1 and O-1 visas, a petition for an H-2B athlete must be accompanied by a labor certification issued by the United States Department of Labor. The Labor Certification confirms that the sponsoring employer is not able to find suitable US workers to fill the position and it can only be obtained after a period of recruitment conducted by the employer.

In addition to the requirement of a labor certification, other disincentives to the H-2B visa for athletes is the fact that the visa category is restricted to nationals of only certain countries and the category has a quota or “cap” which restricts the number of visas that can be issued in a single year.

While H-2B athletes can be traded from one organization to another, the receiving organization may not be able to quickly file a new petition unless they have enough H-2B labor certification slots remaining. When the team files a labor certification, they can request a labor certification for multiple slots. In order to file a new petition, the receiving organization in a trade must have an available slot, otherwise, they will need to go through the entire labor certification process first.

H-1B Visa For Athletes

The H-1B visa category allows athletes who are members of a “specialty occupation” to come to the U.S. to compete or participate in events. A specialty occupation requires the theoretical and practical application of a body of specialized knowledge and a bachelor’s degree or the equivalent in the specific specialty.

While most athletes are not required to have at least a bachelor’s degree in specific filed to practice their sport, this may be a suitable option or category for coaches and coaching staff.

The H-1B requires a Labor Condition Application and also has an annual quota or cap.


Athletes have a variety of visa options available to them, depending on their skills and the nature and duration of the athletic event involved.

VisaPro’s experienced immigration attorneys consider all nonimmigrant options available for each client, reviewing the pros and cons of each with the employer and the athlete, so that they can make an informed decision.

Once a nonimmigrant classification has been selected, the key to success becomes preparation, both the petition for submission to the USCIS and the visa application for submission to the U.S. consulate.

Contact VisaPro if you have any questions regarding Athlete visas.  Our experienced attorneys will be happy to assist you expeditiously.

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