immigration lawyer

Visa Options For Athletes

Athletes who wish to come to the United States to compete in athletic competitions, individually or as part of a team,  need to apply for a specific type of visa depending on the facts of what they intend to come and do here in the U.S.  

The primary visa categories for athletes, regardless of partaking in an individual sport or coming to join a team, are the P-1A, O-1A, and B-1 visas. Here’s an overview of each from an immigration lawyer:

P-1A Visa (Internationally Recognized Athlete)


  • Individual Athletes: Must be coming to the U.S. to participate in an individual event, competition, or performance in which they are internationally recognized with a high level of achievement.
  • Athletic Teams: Teams must have achieved significant international recognition and be coming to participate in events that require such recognition.


  • Documentation of the athlete’s or team’s significant achievements.
  • Evidence of international recognition.
  • A contract with a major U.S. sports league or team, or a contract in an individual sport commensurate with national or international recognition.


  • The P-1A visa is granted for the duration of the event, competition, or performance, up to 5 years for individual athletes, with extensions available.

Please keep in mind these are just the general requirements – there is much more detail and supporting docs beyond those listed above that is required to qualify an athlete for a P1A visa as our friends at Bolour / Carl Immigration Group, APC can share. That is why it is important to work with a qualified lawyer who can ensure your paperwork is done correctly.

O-1A Visa (Individuals With Extraordinary Ability In Athletics)


  • Athletes with extraordinary ability demonstrated by sustained national or international acclaim.
  • Must be coming to the U.S. to continue work in the area of expertise – so in this case the sport in which they have extraordinary ability in.


  • Evidence of a one-time achievement (e.g., a major international award) or at least three of the following:
    • National or international awards.
    • Membership in associations requiring outstanding achievements.
    • Published material about the athlete.
    • Evidence of judging the work of others.
    • Significant contributions to the field.
    • Authorship of scholarly articles.
    • Employment in a critical capacity for organizations with a distinguished reputation.
    • High salary or other significant remuneration.

If you are able to support the petition with documents which demonstrate the above regulations are met then the individual should be able to obtain his O1 visa to come and compete with a team or individually in O1 status. 

B-1 Visa (Temporary Business Visitor)


  • Athletes coming to participate in a sporting event, competition, or performance without receiving a salary or other remuneration from a U.S. source other than prize money.


  • The athlete must maintain a foreign residence and plan to stay for a temporary period.
  • Evidence of participation in a specific event or competition.
  • Proof of funds to cover expenses while in the U.S.

This is usually for individual athletes coming to compete at specific events in which they are not getting paid by a U.S. based sponsor to do so – the only money they would earn is money if they place well in the event.  Oftentimes amateur level surfers, golfers, or anglers qualify for this B1 visa to come and compete in select events. 

Consulting An Attorney

Given the specific requirements and complexity of the above visas, it is advisable to consult with an attorney who can guide you through the process and help ensure a successful application. Contact a lawyer near you to get started today.

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