Athletes and celebrities always get special treatment, right? Not when it comes to needing a visa to work in the U.S. Even outstanding athletes, athletic teams and entertainment companies, including circuses, must obtain a temporary, short-term visa. The visa is known as a P visa and is available to qualifying applicants who have a valid job offer from a U.S. employer. There are three relevant types of P visas: P-1, P-2 and P-3.

P-1A visas are available to athletes or athletic teams coming to the U.S. temporarily to perform in a specific athletic competition as an athlete, individually or as part of a group or team, at an internationally recognized level of performance. To qualify as an individual athlete, you must be coming to the U.S. to participate in an individual event, competition or performance in which you are internationally recognized with a high level of achievement. Your high level of achievement must be evidenced by a degree of skill and recognition substantially above that ordinarily encountered so that the achievement is renowned, leading or well known in more than one country.

To qualify as an athletic team, the team must be coming to the United States to participate in team events and must have achieved significant international recognition in the sport. The events in which the team is engaging must be distinguished and require the participation of athletic teams of international recognition.

P-1B visas are available to members of an internationally recognized entertainment group. Individual entertainers not performing as part of the group, however, are ineligible for this visa classification. The entertainment group has to have been recognized internationally as outstanding in the discipline for a sustained and substantial period of time.To be eligible for a P-1B visa, at least 75 percent of the members of the group must have had a substantial and sustained relationship with the group for at least one year. The entertainment group itself must also be internationally recognized, having a high level of achievement as evidenced by a degree of skill and recognition substantially above that ordinarily encountered. The reputation of the group, as opposed to the individual achievements of its members, or the acclaim of a particular production, is critical. Certain nationally known entertainment groups may have the internationally recognized requirement waived if they can establish they have been recognized nationally as outstanding in its discipline for a sustained amount of time in consideration of special circumstances.

P-1B visas also have special provisions for certain entertainment groups. For example, alien circus performers and essential circus personnel are exempt from the one-year requirement in the internationally recognized requirement. Instead, the alien or aliens must be coming to join a nationally recognized circus.

P-2 visas are available to artists or entertainers, either individually or as part of a group, who come to the U.S. to perform under a reciprocal exchange program between the U.S. and one or more other countries. All essential support personnel are included. To qualify for P-2 visa, the individual must be an artist entering the United States through a government recognized reciprocal exchange program. Additionally, the individual must possess skills comparable to those of the United States artists and entertainers taking part in the program outside of the United States.

P-3 visas are available to artists or entertainers who come to the U.S. temporarily, either individually or as part of a group, to develop, interpret, represent, teach or coach in a program that is considered culturally unique, such as traditional ethnic, folk, musical, theatrical or artistic performances or presentations. The program may be of either a commercial or noncommercial nature.

Highly skilled, essential individuals who are an integral part of the performance of a P-1, P-2, or P-3 visa holder may also be granted P visas (with the same visa designation as the primary visa holder). These individuals must perform support services that cannot be readily performed by a U.S. worker and are essential to the successful performance of services by the P-1, P-2 or P-3 visa holder. The support person must have appropriate qualifications to perform the services, critical knowledge of the specific services to be performed, and experience in providing such support to the P-1, P-2, or P-3 visa holder.

There are several advantages and disadvantages of the P visas:

  • P visas will be granted for the length oftime needed to complete a particularevent, performance, tour or season, up to a maximumof one year. However, P-1 athletes maybe admitted for a period of up to fiveyears with one extension of up to fiveyears.P visa holders may also be allowed some extra time for vacation, as well as for promotional appearances and stopovers incidental and/or related to the event.
  • The P visa holder can work legally in the U.S. for the P visa sponsor. If, however, the person wants to change jobs, getting a new visa will be necessary.
  • A P visa holder may travel in and out of the U.S. or stay continuously for as long as the P visa stamp and status are valid.
  • P visas can be issued relatively quickly.
  • A spouse and unmarried children under age 21 may receive P-4 visas to accompany the main P visa holder, but they may not accept employment in the United States.

For details about how to apply for P visa please consult an immigration attorney for a full personal analysis of your eligibility and for help with the application process.