The visas available for professional athletes to compete or otherwise engage professionally in the United States include the B-1 (for business visitors), the P-1 (for internationally recognized athletes) and the O-1 (for individuals with extraordinary ability in athletics). Although there may be other visas available depending on the nature of the event or engagement in the United States, these are the three most commonly applicable categories. The following is a cursory description of how these categories may be used. B-1 Business Visitor
As a general matter, the B-1 visa* allows for individuals to travel to the United States for a temporary period to engage in business-related activities, such as attending meetings or conferences. The B-1 does not allow for “work” in the United States, but the difference between business-related activities and work is sometimes difficult to pin down. Helpfully, the US Department of State has offered more specific guidance in the case of professional athletes who wish to travel to the United States on a B-1 visa. From Chapter 9 of the Foreign Affairs Manual, section 402.2-5(C)(4), the following excerpt explains when professional athletes may rightfully use the B-1 category.
(1) The foreign athlete and the foreign sports team have their principal place of business or activity in a foreign country;
(2) The income of the foreign-based team and the salary of its players are principally accrued in a foreign country; and
(3) The foreign-based sports team is a member of an international sports league or the sporting activities involved have an international dimension.
If the intended US activities do not fit neatly within one of the above descriptions, then another visa category may be more appropriate.
*Nationals of certain countries including the United Kingdom can apply for authorisation to travel to the United States for business or tourism for trips of 90 days or less without first obtaining a B-1/B-2 visa under the ESTA/Visa Waiver Program. The intended activities for Visa Waiver Program travel must fit clearly within what is acceptable for the B-1/B-2 visa categories.
P-1 Internationally Recognized Athlete
The P-1 visa allows for professional athletes who are internationally recognised in their sport to compete in the United States, either individually or as part of a group. Note that “internationally” in this context requires recognition in more than one country, as evidenced by documentary evidence including at least two of the following:
To obtain this visa, a US sponsor (e.g., employer or agent) must file a petition with the US Citizenship & Immigration Services, which includes the evidence above together with a letter of consultation from a US labour organisation, the contract with the US sponsor and a full itinerary of the engagements encompassed in the “event”. Once the petition has been approved, the individual may proceed to a US consular post to apply for the visa. This visa may be granted in increments of up to 5 years for an individual athlete or 1 year for an athlete in a group.
O-1 Extraordinary Ability
The O-1 extraordinary ability visa is for individuals who have risen to the top of the field in athletics, among other areas (e.g., science, arts, etc.) This can be demonstrated by achievement of a major, internationally renowned award akin to the Nobel Prize. In the absence of such a high-level award, it can be demonstrated by presentation of evidence that the applicant meets at least 3 of the following criteria.
The process for obtaining this visa is quite similar to that of the P-1 visa: a US sponsor (e.g., employer or agent) files a petition with the US Citizenship & Immigration Services together with the evidence above, a letter of consultation from an appropriate labour organisation, the contract with the US sponsor and a full itinerary of the engagements encompassed in the “event”. Once approved, the applicant can proceed to the US consular post to apply for the O-1 visa. The visa may be granted for 3 years initially, and then renewed in 1 year increments.
Guest Blog by Olivia McLaren US Immigration attorney, Edinburgh. http://www.mclarenltd.com/
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