Immigrants who can demonstrate that they have extraordinary ability in Athletics may be eligible for sports visas and green cards. A variety of options exist for athletes, coaches, trainers, and other sports industry professionals with plans to work or train in the US. Our sports immigration practice is managed by Ksenia Maiorova, one of the most widely-recognized attorneys in the field of sports immigration law.
The Sports Visa Lawyer - the Gold Standard for Sports Visas
Ksenia Maiorova, also known as The Sports Visa Lawyer™ is an award-winning immigration attorney, who is internationally-recognized as a thought leader in the field of sports immigration. She is a frequent presenter at national conferences on O-1 visas, P-1 visas, and EB-1A green cards, as well as a published author on these topics. She is the founder of the nation's first annual Sports Immigration Law Conference and professional association for sports visa lawyers. The Sports Visa Lawyer™ personally develops the strategy and takes the lead on every Sports/Extraordinary Ability case that we handle.
In March 2019, Ksenia Maiorova received the Sports Immigration Champion Award in recognition of her initiative, leadership, and pursuit of excellence in the field of sports immigration.
Sports Visa Options
Athletes, coaches or other sports industry professionals who wish to travel to the US will need to secure the appropriate visa type prior to travel. Some of the most common visa options for athletes include the following:
B-1 Visas for Professional and Amateur Athletes
What is a B-1 visa for athletes?
The B-1 visa can be used by both professional and amateur athletes for relatively short periods of stay in the US. It is the best fit for athletes who are coming to the US for a brief visit to compete in one or two athletic competitions and who do not have plans to remain in the US long-term to train or compete in a series of events or athletic season.
How long can I stay in the US on a B-1 visa for athletes?
Professional or amateur athletes coming to the US on a B-1 visa will be admitted for a maximum stay of 6 months per entry. Extensions of that stay are theoretically possible, but practically speaking, if a B-1 athlete has reason to extend his or her stay beyond 6 months, it is probably wise to apply for a P-1 or O-1 sports visa instead.
Can I make money in the US on a B-1 visa?
Amateur athletes cannot make money on their B-1 visa while in the US. Professional athletes who hold a B-1 visa may collect prize money in an athletic competition, however, they cannot collect a salary and should not engage in employment in the US. Sponsorship payments can be problematic for B-1 visa holders, therefore, if you receive sponsorship money and hold a B-1 visa, it’s best to consult with an experienced sports immigration lawyer to make sure that you are not violating the terms of your B-1 status.
Does a B-1 visa require a US sponsor or petitioner?
One of the key advantages of the B-1 visa lies in the fact that unlike other sports visas, the B-1 visa does not require that you have a US sponsor, petitioner, agent, or employer.
How do I apply for a B-1 visa?
You can apply for the visa yourself by filling out an electronic visa application online.
What if I already have a B-1/B-2 visa?
If you already hold a valid B-1/B-2 visa and are traveling to the US to compete in an event where you are potentially going to collect prize money, it is important that you let the CBP officer at the border know and ask to be stamped in as a B-1 athlete rather than a B-2 visitor. If you are admitted as a B-2 and nonetheless collect prize money, you could be deemed to be in violation of your visa status.
P-1 Visas for Individual and Team Athletes and Support Personnel
Is the P-1 visa a good option for me?
The P-1 visa is available to individual professional athletes and professional athletes who compete as a part of a team. The athlete or the team must be “internationally recognized” to qualify for the P-1 visa. The P-1 may also be available to amateur coaches or athletes who meet certain additional criteria.
The P-1A visa for professional athletes is often a great option for individual athletes who have only recently signed their first professional contract, but who nonetheless have already attained significant accomplishments in the sport. In our practice, we commonly pursue P-1A’s for Track & Field athletes who have recently graduated NCAA schools and have begun to compete internationally at the Senior level. We often use their NCAA accomplishments to prove their qualifications for the P-1 visa.
To be considered internationally recognized, the athlete must meet at least two of the following criteria:
- 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 the governing body of the sport which details how you or your team is internationally recognized;
- A written statement from a member of the sports media or a recognized expert in the sport which details how you or your team is internationally recognized;
- Evidence that you or your team is ranked, if the sport has international rankings; or
- Evidence that you or your team has received a significant honor or award in the sport.
The P-1 application also requires the submission of an itinerary, competition schedule or contracts for events, and a consultation letter from the appropriate peer organization or labor union.
How long can I stay in the US on a P-1 visa?
The maximum admission period on a P-1A visa is 5 years, however, the specific duration of your admission will depend on your contract(s) and competition schedule in the US. A skilled sports visa lawyer can develop strategies to help you maximize your stay in the US.
Can I get a P-1 visa as a trainer, coach or other essential support staff member?
Yes, it is possible for essential support personnel to obtain a P-1S visa if they are coming to the US to support the performance of a P-1A athlete.
Does the P-1 sports visa require an employer?
While the P-1 visa does not require an employer, opening the door for traditionally self-employed individual athletes to obtain this visa, it does require a US petitioner. In our practice, coaches, agents, gyms, training groups, or sponsors often serve as petitioners for our P-1 athletes.
O-1 Visas for Extraordinary Athletes and Coaches
Is the O-1 visa a good option for me?
The O-1 visa is reserved for athletes and coaches who can show extraordinary ability by sustained national or international acclaim in their sport. The O-1 visa may also be available to coaches, athletic trainers, physical therapists, and other support staff who can demonstrate extraordinary ability.
In general, in our practice, we obtain O-1 visas for seasoned professional athletes who have won significant international awards in the sport. Individuals who have won medals at continental or area games, world championships, or the Olympics are generally well-qualified for the O-1 visa. These athletes typically do not have a problem meeting the criteria required for an O-1 visa.
To establish sustained national or international acclaim, and thus, extraordinary ability, an athlete, coach, or other applicant must submit evidence that he has won at least one major internationally-recognized award, or at least three of the following:
Evidence that the beneficiary has received a major, internationally-recognized award, such as a Nobel Prize, or evidence of at least (3) three of the following:
- Receipt of nationally or internationally recognized prizes or awards for excellence in the field of endeavor
- Membership in associations in the field for which classification is sought which require outstanding achievements, as judged by recognized national or international experts in the field
- Published material in professional or major trade publications, newspapers or other major media about the beneficiary and the beneficiary’s work in the field for which classification is sought
- Original scientific, scholarly, or business-related contributions of major significance in the field
- Authorship of scholarly articles in professional journals or other major media in the field for which classification is sought
- A high salary or other remuneration for services as evidenced by contracts or other reliable evidence
- Participation on a panel, or individually, as a judge of the work of others in the same or in a field of specialization allied to that field for which classification is sought
- Employment in a critical or essential capacity for organizations and establishments that have a distinguished reputation
Olympic and World Championship medals would, arguably, qualify as a one-time internationally-recognized award, however, our practice is to always submit evidence of at least three of the above criteria, to maximize our client’s chance of being approved.
The O-1 application also requires the submission of an itinerary, competition schedule or contracts for events, and a consultation letter from the appropriate peer organization or labor union.
How long can I stay in the US on an O-1 visa?
The maximum admission period on an O-1 visa is 3 years, however, the specific duration of your admission will depend on your contract(s) and competition schedule in the US. A skilled sports visa lawyer can develop strategies to help you maximize your stay in the US.
Does the O-1 sports visa require an employer?
Like the P-1, the O-1 visa does not require you to have an employer in the US. You must, however, be coming to the US to compete or work in the area of extraordinary ability. Additionally, you must have a US petitioner. A variety of petitioner scenarios may be workable for the O-1 visa, many of them similar to the P-1. We work with each individual client to develop the best petitioner strategy for their case.
If I qualify for both the O-1 visa and P-1 visa, which one should I choose?
Some athletes are surprised to learn that there are situations when it is strategically wiser to apply for a P-1 sports visa over an O-1, even though the O-1 designation is reserved for more accomplished athletes. The Sports Visa Lawyer develops a comprehensive and individual legal strategy for each client, taking into account such factors as the likelihood of approval, cost, timing, and travel requirements.
Limitations of O-1 and P-1 Visas
Can I work in the US using my O-1 or P-1 visa?
Although the O-1 and P-1 sports visas are considered employment-based or so-called “work visas,” they do not allow the athlete to engage in unrestricted employment. In fact, the type of employment the visa holder is authorized to accept is very limited and includes only the engagements, competitions and events included in the approved O-1 or P-1 petition. An O-1 or P-1 athlete cannot hold a side job of any kind without violating the terms of the O-1 or P-1 petition.
One widespread myth is that O-1 or P-1 athletes can work on the side as personal trainers or coaches when they are not competing as athletes. This is untrue. The approved petition is either for an athlete or a coach, and it is exceedingly rare, if not impossible, for USCIS to approve a petition that includes both competing as an athlete and coaching.
If you hold an O-1 or P-1 sports visa and have questions about employment, internships, or any other kind of activities outside the scope of the approved petition, you should speak to an experienced sports visa lawyer before engaging in any of these activities. Status violations can have serious consequences, including the non-renewal of your status and/or the denial of your green card application.
Can my spouse and children also get a visa if I have an O-1 or P-1 visa?
Yes, spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21 can accompany you to the US if you hold a valid P-1 or O-1 status. They can even join you if they are outside the US and you are already in the US.
Can I file for an extraordinary ability green card if I have a P-1 or O-1 visa?
Holding an O-1 or P-1 sports visa does not automatically qualify you for a sports green card. However, if you currently hold an O-1 or P-1 visa, and you meet the criteria for an EB-1A sports green card, you can submit your Extraordinary Ability Petition, Form I-140, without putting your P-1 or O-1 at risk. This is because O-1 and P-1 visas permit dual intent, and the filing of your I-140 petition does not interfere with your ability to hold an O-1 or P-1 visa and travel on it while you are awaiting your green card.
However, it is extremely important to note that filing a Form I-485 CAN create problems for O-1 and P-1 holders, and athletes whose accomplishments are at the EB-1A sports green card level should discuss their filing strategy with an immigration attorney who has significant experience handling sports visas.
EB-1A Green Card for Extraordinary Ability in Sports
What is an EB-1A green card?
Athletes, coaches, and other sports industry professionals who can demonstrate extraordinary ability in sports may be eligible for a sports green card under the EB-1A Extraordinary Ability category. There is no requirement that an EB-1A applicant have ever previously held an O-1 or P-1 sports visa, however, due to the current waiting period for sports green cards, an athlete who has an immediate need to travel to the US may need to secure a sports visa while awaiting the sports green card.
For the purposes of the Extraordinary Ability green card through sports, the applicant must have a one-time major achievement (in sports, this usually means an Olympic or World Championship medal) or at least 3 of the following:
- Evidence of receipt of lesser nationally or internationally recognized prizes or awards for excellence
- Evidence of your membership in associations in the field which demand outstanding achievement of their members
- Evidence of published material about you in professional or major trade publications or other major media
- Evidence that you have been asked to judge the work of others, either individually or on a panel
- Evidence of your original scientific, scholarly, artistic, athletic, or business-related contributions of major significance to the field
- Evidence of your authorship of scholarly articles in professional or major trade publications or other major media
- Evidence that your work has been displayed at artistic exhibitions or showcases
- Evidence of your performance of a leading or critical role in distinguished organizations
- Evidence that you command a high salary or other significantly high remuneration in relation to others in the field
Does an EB-1A green card through sports require an employer?
No. One of the major advantages of the EB-1A green card is that it does not require an employer or a job offer. However, the applicant must be able to demonstrate that he or she is coming to the US to continue work in the area of their extraordinary ability. This requirement can present problems for athletes whose competitive careers are coming to a close and who are transitioning into coaching, training, agency, officiating, or commentating. The timing of the EB-1A green card should be discussed with an experienced sports visa lawyer to prevent these complications.
A quality application for any sports visa or sports green card requires hundreds of pages of evidence and a well-designed legal strategy to ensure that the athlete’s travel and competition plans are not interrupted. Here's what you can expect from our sports immigration services.
- We utilize more than a decade of experience by The Sports Visa Lawyer™ to develop a unique and robust legal strategy just for you.
- We make every effort to prevent interruptions to your travel and competition schedule and build our legal strategy around your needs.
- We rely on our knowledge of your sport to obtain most of the evidence required for your case without bothering you with unnecessary requests.
- Our plan for you bears in mind your long-term personal and professional goals, such as career transitions into coaching or retirement from the sport.
Special focus on Track & Field
Ksenia Maiorova has been a Track & Field fan since attending college and becoming friends with American sprint legends Deedee Trotter (2 time Olympian) and Justin Gatlin (world champion, 3 time Olympian), and she focuses a substantial portion of her practice on obtaining sports visas and green cards for Track & Field athletes who train and compete in the US. The Sports Visa Lawyer creates sports visa solutions that allow you to remain focused on what is most important – your performance in the “oval office” and winning medals.
Tremaine HarrisOlympic sprinter, Canada
I've never seen anyone work harder...Top notch professionalism...I've already recommended her to many other athletes.
Dennis MitchellOlympic Coach
The Sports Visa Lawyer has helped several of our athletes so they could focus on training while she handled their green card and visa services. Thank you!
Aaron BrownOlympic Bronze Medalist
Extremely helpful and professional and even went the extra mile during a time of crisis for my sports green card! Worth every penny!