P Visas for Non-Immigrant Foreign National Athletes, Teams, and Entertainment Groups
One of the most distinctive types of employment visas is the P visa, which was created by Section 101(a)(15)(P) of the Immigration and Nationality Act. This visa can cover certain athletes, teams, and entertainment groups who are seeking entry to the U.S. based on a job offer from a U.S. employer. P visas have no quota and tend to be processed efficiently.
Generally, a P visa covers the time period in which the foreign national will complete the event, tour, or season that forms the basis of their status. The initial visa typically will last for no more than one year but can be extended in one-year terms. However, athletes who hold a P-1 visa may hold that status for up to five years, and they can extend their status in five-year terms. Holders of P visas have the right to leave and reenter the U.S. while their visa is valid. If they change their job, they will need to get a new visa sponsored by the new employer.
Qualifying as an Athlete or Team
An athlete or an athletic team must be able to show that they have achieved an outstanding international reputation in their sport for a long and continuous time. As a threshold requirement, they must have a contract with a major sports league or team in the U.S., or with an international sporting event. Their U.S. employer also must be able to show that at least two of seven criteria apply to their situation.
The first criterion involves proving previous significant participation in a major sports league in the U.S. Another criterion involves proving previous significant participation in intercollegiate competition at a U.S. educational institution. The U.S. employer also can provide proof of the applicant’s participation in an international competition as part of a national team. They can provide proof that the athlete or team is internationally ranked, or they can provide proof that they have received a significant honor or award in their sport. Another criterion involves submitting a written statement by a recognized expert or a member of the sports media that describes the applicant’s international recognition. Finally, the employer can present a similar written statement by an official of a major sports league in the U.S. or the governing body of their sport.
P-1A Visa Eligibility Criteria
USCIS sets out eligibility criteria based on the type of team or athlete applying for a P-1A visa. For example, internationally recognized athletic teams must be coming to the U.S. to participate in a distinguished athletic competition at a level of performance that requires the participation of an internationally recognized team.
Qualifying as an Entertainment Group
In contrast to individual athletes, individual entertainers cannot qualify for a P-1 visa. Foreign entertainment groups can apply for a P visa if they have performed regularly for at least one year and have acquired an outstanding international reputation. If the group cannot show that it has an outstanding international reputation, it may receive a visa based on an outstanding national reputation if special circumstances prevent it from being able to prove its international reputation.
Form I-129 requires not only evidence of an entertainment group’s outstanding reputation but also a detailed itinerary, among other documentation.
To show the outstanding reputation of the entertainment group, their employer can provide documentation of significant international awards or prizes that they have received, or for which they have been nominated. Alternatively, the employer can show that the group meets at least three of six criteria. The first criterion involves proving that the group will take a leading role in a production or event with a distinguished reputation. Another criterion involves proving that the group will take a leading role in a production or event for an organization that has a distinguished reputation. The employer also can submit published documentation, such as reviews, supporting the international recognition and acclaim that the group has received. It can provide documentation of box office receipts or ratings that demonstrate the commercial or critical success attained by the group. The employer can provide proof of significant recognition that the group has received from various recognized experts in their field, such as critics or government agencies. Finally, the employer can submit proof of the high compensation or salary that the group receives.
In most cases, at least three-quarters of the members of the group must have performed with the group during the previous year. However, this requirement does not apply to circus performers and essential personnel if the circus has an outstanding national reputation. USCIS may waive this requirement if an essential member of the group will be unexpectedly absent and needs to be replaced by someone who has not performed with the group for one year. It also may waive the requirement for any individual member of the group who will be performing a critical role in its operations.
P-2 and P-3 Visas
A P-2 visa can cover individual artists, entertainers, and entertainment groups who are coming to the U.S. as part of a reciprocal exchange program with a foreign country. To get this status, they must provide a written copy of the exchange agreement and show that a U.S. labor union agreed to the exchange or participated in negotiating it. Moreover, the applicant must have a similar term of employment and skill set to the U.S. individual or group on the other side of the exchange.
A P-3 visa can cover individual artists, entertainers, and entertainment groups who are coming to the U.S. to participate in a program that is culturally unique. The events in which they will participate must facilitate the understanding or development of an art form. The U.S. employer will need to prove the authenticity of the applicant’s skills related to the art form. This may involve submitting statements from recognized experts that explain the applicant’s knowledge and skill. Or it may involve submitting proof that the art form of the applicant is culturally unique and that their performance in the U.S. will be culturally unique.
P Visas for Family Members and Support Personnel
A foreign national with a P-1, P-2, or P-3 visa can bring their spouse and any unmarried children under the age of 21 to the U.S. on a P-4 visa. However, a spouse or child does not have the right to work in the U.S. while holding this status.
Support personnel will not necessarily have the same initial period of authorized stay as their P visa counterparts.
Essential support personnel of a foreign national or team with a P-1, P-2, or P-3 visa also can receive a P visa of the same type. Their initial visa will not last for longer than one year, even for support personnel of athletes who receive five-year visas. They must be highly skilled and necessary to the successful performance of the visa holder, such that U.S. support personnel cannot easily replace them. They must be able to show that they have knowledge of the services that they will provide, they are qualified to provide them, and they have experience in providing them. Support personnel for a P-3 visa holder may need to submit more specific documents, such as a copy of any written contract with the employer and a consultation with a labor organization in their field of expertise.