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An Analysis of the P-1 Visa

When a kid from Argentina signs a contract to play in the NBA, the last thing on their mind is how they will obtain work authorization in the United States.  Luckily, these individuals typically have access to attorneys who can guide them through the process of obtaining the proper visa.  This may not be the case for individuals and employers whose professional sports leagues lack the longevity and financial power of the NBAs, NFLs and MLBs of the world. This article discusses the P-1A visa process including who can file, who is eligible and what documentation is necessary for an approval.   

Generally, the P-1A is a temporary visa which grants work authorization to persons engaging in specific athletic competition either individually or as a member of a team.  The level of performance must be internationally recognized in order to qualify.  An individual must have obtained international recognition with a high level of achievement, which can be shown by a degree of both skill and recognition substantially above the ordinary.  The level of achievement should be renowned, leading or well known in more than one country.  A team or group can also qualify together if they are of significant international recognition and coming to the United States to engage in a team sport. Additionally, they may be competing in a distinguished event which requires participation from athletic teams of international recognition. 

One example of those who qualify for a P-1 visa is professional athletes already under contract with any major U.S. league.  Typically, all that is required to show these individuals qualify is a copy of their contract with the professional sports league, a written consultation from the appropriate labor organization and a written explanation as well as proper documentation.  The U.S. employer, in this circumstance the professional sports league, would file an I-129 petition for non-immigrant worker with the necessary fees. For a more comprehensive breakdown of documents that should be submitted by a U.S. employer at the time of filing, please see below:

  • Consultation from an appropriate labor organization which describes the work/services performed in the U.S. and the individual’s qualifications for such work. If no organization exists, this requirement is excluded.
  • Contract with major U.S. sports league/team or contact in induvial sport commensurate with international recognition in the sport if such a contract is typically used in the sport.
  • Detailed explanation of the event(s) and a comprehensive itinerary.
  • At least two of the following:
    • Evidence of prior participation to a significant extent in a prior season with a major US sports league.
    • Evidence of participation to a signification extent in international competition with a national team.
    • Evidence of participation to a signification extent in a prior season for a U.S. college or university in intercollegiate competition.
    • Written statement from official of a major US. Sports league or an official of the governing body of the sport which details how the individual or team is internationally recognized.
    • Written statement from a member of the sports media or a recognized expert in the sport which details how the individual or team is internationally recognized.
    • Evidence individual or team is ranked if such international rankings exist.
    • Evidence individual or team has received a significant honor or award in the sport.

When a P-1A visa is approved, the period of stay depends on whether the visa was filed for an individual or athletic group.  An individual is usually approved until the completion of the competition for which the visa was granted occurs. This is capped at five years with a possible extension for up to five more years.  For teams, the approvals are for shorter durations running from year to year increments.  The dependents of the P-1 visa holder, such as spouses or unmarried children, are eligible for a P-4 visa and will have the same duration as the P-1 visa holder. Those holding P-4 status cannot engage in employment but may attend school or college.

Other entities who may enter the United States along with the P-1 visa holder are essential support personnel.  These are people who are an integral part of the performance of the P-1 athlete or team and who perform support services that cannot be readily performed by a U.S. worker.  Examples of essential support personnel include coaches, scouts, trainers, team officials and referees. A separate I-129 petition is filed for essential support personnel which must include: a consultation from an appropriate labor organization with expertise in the area of the support person’s skills, a statement describing the support person’s prior and current essentiality, critical skills and experience with the P-1 athlete or team, a copy of a written contact between employer and support person or a summary of the terms of the oral agreement under which the support person will be employed. 

A P-1A visa is usually utilized by people who do not meet the extraordinary standards of the O visa.  However, it is not the individual receiving the visa who actually file the petition.  The entities who may file a P-1 visa include a U.S. employer, U.S. sponsoring organization, a U.S. agent or a foreign employer via a U.S. agent.  While a U.S. employer filing for a P-1 visa is fairly straight forward the other categories can be more complicated.  For example, a sponsoring organization may not employ the Beneficiary, but it will guarantee the terms and conditions of employment of the beneficiary.

If a petition is filed by an agent, the P-1 holder may have multiple employer, sponsors and other revenue sources.  Agents must establish they are in business as an agent.  They can do so when representing multiple employers by providing a complete services of engagements with specific dates of each service, the name and address of all employers, name and address of all venues where services will be performed, contracts between employers and the Beneficiary, explaining the terms and conditions of employment and providing and additional required documentation. In reviewing agent based petitions, adjudicators will determine whether it is more likely than not the Petitioner is in business as an agent for a series of events, services or engagements. The adjudicator will consider if the agent is authorized to act on behalf of other employers for the purpose of filing the present petition. 

A cursory examination of the P-1A visa filing process can lead one to believe it is fairly straightforward.  However, like most aspects of U.S. immigration there is plenty of complexity buried within the process.  While it may be simple for a Canadian coming to the U.S. on a National Hockey League contract, the same cannot be said for a professional boxer fighting in multiple leagues over the span of two years.  Whether complex or seemingly simplistic, anyone seeking to navigate the tumultuous waters of U.S. immigration in 2018 should consult an experienced immigration attorney. 

 By: Staff Attorney