Picking the Right U.S. Visa for Athletes:
B-1, P-1, O-1 and EB-1
The U.S. is a Nation of adoring sports fans in areas such as Football, Baseball, Hockey, and now the very popular areas of MMA, Kickboxing, Judo and Brazilian Jui-Jitsu. Superstar athletes may qualify for different types of Visa. The following “star guide” discusses the varying degrees of athletic skill and recognition required by law in order to obtain the different types of U.S. visas.
Determining Your Visa Category
The first step foreign athletes must take is to determine the correct type of visa. To determine what visa category you qualify for, think of the of B-1 as a Rising Star, P-1 as a Star, the O-1 as a Shining Star and the EB-1 as a Superstar (la más brillante).
B-1 Visa (Rising Star)
B-1 Visitor for Business – Professional athletes and entertainers may use the B-1 Visa category to participate in U.S. events and earn prize money that is a small enough amount so it satisfies the rule that the athlete is not working. Also, if the athlete does not have enough international recognition, the B-1 Visa will allow competition in an event located in the U.S. The duration of the visa is only 6 months (B-1 Visa) or 3 months under the Visa Waiver Program.
P-1 Visa (Star)
P-1 Internationally Recognized Athlete. The P-1 Visa is available for either an individual athlete or for an internationally recognized foreign team.
- The Individual Athlete or all members of a foreign team, must be internationally recognized to compete in the U.S. under the P-1 Visa.
- Internationally recognized means that athletes must be known in more than one country and not just “locally” in a city or state.
- An Immigration Officer will likely do a google search to review athlete recognition, ranking professional status, etc.
- P-1 athletes compete at a professional level, not amateur. This means they are paid to compete.
- P-1 athletes may “work” in the U.S. and engage in activities such as an athletic competition, tour, tournament, project, exhibit, etc. Also, the P-1 athlete can take short trips, train and engage in promotional activities.
- The athlete can be paid pursuant to contract and can earn prize money.
- The athlete may also engage in part time study.
- P-1 athletes can work for multiple employers with each employer sponsoring visas.
- Visas are available for the athletes spouses, children and essential support personnel such as coaches and trainers.
- An agreement with the petitioner is required.
- A Consultation is required. A Consultation is a written advisory from a Labor Union with Expertise in the area of the sport or entertainment field. If there is no labor union, the Service will review a statement from an expert in the field that details the athlete’s recognition.
- The Immigration Service carefully reviews the application to determine the “event” and will limit approval to the duration of the event. For example, if the athlete has a 2 year contract, the event is 2 years and the approval will be for 2 years.
O-1 Visa (Shining Star)
O-1 Visa: Individuals with Extraordinary Ability or Achievement – The O-1 Visa is available to athletes that are extraordinary in their field of endeavor. This means a level of expertise indicating that the athlete is one of the small percentage of athletes who has risen to the very top of their sport or field. Defining the “field” is critical because this is a way to narrow the area of extraordinary ability. For example, a world titlist kickboxer’s ability will be reviewed in a particular weight class and not combined weight classes.
- The Service first reviews whether or not there is a one time achievement award. This could be a world title, MVP award and the like.
- If the athlete does not have a one time achievement award, lesser awards, titles, certifications, publications in magazines, newspaper and web publicity will be reviewed. This publicity cannot be purely local recognition, but must show sustained National and International renown to receive classification as extraordinary ability.
- The Service usually looks at payment of the athlete in determining extraordinary ability. This means that the Service weighs the payment of the athlete in comparison to other athletes in the field.
- Serving as a Judge in the sport is helpful. This type of evidence establishes that the athlete has earned such a high degree of skill in the sport that he is capable as acting as a Judge of others.
EB-1 (Superstar) (la más brillante)
EB-1 Employment Based Immigration: First Preference – EB-1 is a Green Card that mirrors the O-1 Visa but concerns permanent residency as opposed to temporary work. The definition of extraordinary ability mirrors the O-1 Visa. The EB-1 Visa is available for an individual who is in the small percentage of athletes that has risen to the very top of his or her field.
To apply for an EB-1 from an O-1 you can add evidence from the work you have done during your O-1 to the materials you used to receive an O-1 Visa. This is because some of the criteria of the O-1 and EB-1 overlap. You can also submit evidence for the criteria that are unique to the EB 1-1 category. This includes:
- Judging the works of others.
- Original contributions.
- Published materials.
- Membership in an association requiring outstanding achievement of its members.
- Receipt of nationally or internationally recognized awards below the level of World Champion, National Champion, MVP and the like.
In order to receive an EB-1 Visa, the athlete must have the intent to conduct activities in the area of their extraordinary ability and not go off and do something else.
It Is Important to Choose the Right Visa
In sum, the athlete needs to carefully assess the continuum of scrutiny between a rising star, star, shining star and superstar for visa approval. Athletes should make sure they don’t delay in filing for a Green Card if they reach superstar level because as athletes age, acclaim may lessen. “Sustained” acclaim is required in the P-1, O-1 and EB-1 categories.
We Help Athletes who Need Visas
It is difficult to make certain that you apply for the right Visa, never mind handle the application properly. Attorney Johanna M. Keamy, represents foreign athletes who want to work in the United States. Contact Johanna today to find out how she can help you with your Visa application and other Immigration law needs.