Immigration for Athletes: The P-Visa

If you’re an athlete looking to play or perform in the United States, the P Visa may be the best way to achieve temporary nonimmigrant status. It could allow you to participate in an upcoming tour, sports season, or athletic event in the US, as long as a US employer can sponsor your application. Here’s what you need to know about the P Visa for athletes.


Athletes or athletic teams should specifically apply for the P-1A visa designation. The visa is reserved for individuals or teams that are internationally recognized for their sport. As an applicant, you’ll have to show that you or your team have had widespread recognition for a long and continuous period of time. You must be coming to the US to participate in the same sport or performance that you are recognized for, and you must provide evidence of your above-average skill.

Application and Proof

Your employer will need to file Form I-129 (Petition for Non-immigrant Worker) with USCIS, along with the application fee and the supporting documentation. Your documents will basically be used to prove your level of skill and recognition. They might show, for example, that you played with a major US sports league in a prior season; that you played with a national team against international competition; or that you previously played in an intercollegiate competition with a US college or university. The evidence itself could include a written statement from a recognized sports expert or official, proof of awards or honors in your sport, or a copy of your international rankings.

Features and Advantages

The P Visa offers certain advantages over other visa types. For one, the visa can be issued relatively quickly once an application has been approved. After you receive a P visa, you can travel in and out of the US as often as you want, or stay continuously, until your P visa status expires. You may also request some extra vacation time, or additional time for promotional appearances and other stops that may coincide with the main event. While USCIS places an annual limit on some visas, the P visa can be granted to any number of people.

Period of Stay

  • Individual Athletes: The visa may allow you to stay in the US for up to 5 years, but generally you will be given as much time as you need to complete your event, competition, or performance. You can apply for another 5 year extension for a maximum total of 10 years.
  • Athletic Groups: You will be granted the time you need to complete your event, competition, or performance, for a maximum of 1 year. You can also apply for a 5 year extension, not to exceed 10 years.

Other P Visa Categories

The P-1A visa for athletes is not to be confused with the P-1B for members of entertainment groups, the P-2 for performers or groups in a reciprocal exchange program, or the P-3 for artists and entertainers in a culturally unique program. A P-4 visa may be issued to the spouses and children of other P visa recipients, allowing them to accompany the main visa holder without the right to accept employment in the US.

Essential support personnel may also be granted visas under the same designation as the athlete they have come to support. The US immigration process may seem overwhelming, but now that you know the basics, you should contact a qualified lawyer to help with your application. Whether you are an athlete or a sponsoring employer, Sánchez-Roig Law Firm, P.A. can provide you with step-by-step guidance on the path to US nonimmigrant status. Give us a call to speak with a professional immigration attorney right away.