Athlete Visa and Athlete Green Card Options

For foreign nationals who wish to come to the United States to work or perform as an athlete in sports like football, basketball, hockey, MMA, tennis, golf or in other competitions, there are several different visa and green card options to be found.  Typically, the most difficult part of the process is finding sponsorship but, fortunately for you, I can tell you several ways to get around that issue to perform in the US legally.

Athlete Visa Options

Option 1 – The B1 Visa.  The B1 visa, also known as a business visa, can be used by amateur athletes “competing in an athletic event for which they will receive no payment, other than incidental expenses” and by professional athletes “who receive no salary or payment other than prize money.”  This is clearly not the best option for an athlete who wishes to remain in the US for a longer term as this visa is limited to a six month duration and typically only granted for the exact sporting event period which can be just a couple weeks.  Also, payment is limited to prize money or incidentals.  However, it does not require sponsorship and you do not have to file a petition to USCIS for approval.  The application for a visa can be made at the Embassy and the process is very quick though not always simple to get approved.

Option 2 – The H2B Visa.  The H2B is a seasonal worker visa.  It can be used by athletes to perform in any sport that is seasonal, such as basketball or hockey.  However, for sports that are played year round, this visa type will not be an option.  The H2B visa required a US employer to sponsor the athlete and even more than that, the employer is required test the market for potential employees, run advertisements and promise to pay the “prevailing wage” for the job.  Then the employer must file applications with both the US Department of Labor and USCIS and get approvals from both before a visa application can be made at the Embassy.  Another benefit is that the H2B visa holder can bring his or her spouse or children along with an H4 visa.  The process is slower and cumbersome and you must stay aware of the H2B visa cap which mandates that only 66,000 H2B visas be issued each fiscal year.

Option 3 – The O1 Visa.  The O1 visa is limited to foreign nationals with “extraordinary ability.”  This basically means that this category is reserved for accomplished professional athletes.  Sponsorship is required but it does not need to be from the employer, it can be from a sports agent.  Having a sports agent as a sponsor for your O1 visa is ideal for golf, tennis or other individual sports players that are going to play at multiple different sports events or tournaments.  Unlike the H2B visa, there is no wage requirement and there are no required tests of the labor market.  The employer or agent will file a petition with USCIS and once that is approved, an application for a visa can be made at the Embassy.  A big benefit of this visa type is the athlete can bring a spouse and children along with an O3 visa and you can bring your assistants (multiple) with an O2 visa!

Option 4 – The P1 Visa.  The P1 visa is the only visa type that is specifically designed for athletes.  The athlete does not need to demonstrate extraordinary ability and there is no distinction between amateurs or professionals or individual or groups.  Sponsorship is required but it does not need to be from the employer, it can be from a sports agent.  There is no prevailing wage requirement and no test of the labor market is required.  However, the athlete must be “internationally recognized” and is used to compete at a specific athletic competition.  If you are only competing for prize money, the B1 visa is likely the better option and if you want to remain in the US for a longer period of time then you are likely better off with the H2B visa or O1 visa.

Athlete Green Card Options

Option 1 – PERM Labor Certification + EB3 Green Card.  The PERM labor certification requires a US employer to promise to pay the athlete the prevailing wage and perform a test of the US labor market to see if any minimally qualified US workers are willing and able to take the position, if offered to them.  If no US workers can be located then the green card application can proceed.  The PERM process + the green card process typically takes a couple years if there are no complications or no visa availability issues as listed in the visa bulletin.

Option 2 – EB1 Green Card.  The EB1 requirements mirror the requirements of the O1 visa.  The athlete must be a professional and be significant accomplishments in the sport as to show they are extraordinary.  However, unlike the O1 visa which requires sponsorship by a US employer or agent, the EB1 category has no such requirement.  That means that any foreign athlete can self sponsor and petition for a green card based on their own merits and does not have to rely on anyone else.  When the green card is approved, they are required to continue in their sport but not with any particular employer or agent.  This category is very quick and we have many EB1 cases approved in less than 1 week.

If you would like to explore your athlete visa or athlete green card options, you can contact our office by phone at 312-751-9960, by email at info@messersmitlaw.com or through this contact form.  Our firm has handled thousands of immigration cases and we can evaluate your case to determine the best path for you.

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