Athletes, Artists and Entertainers - What U.S. Visa is Required?

Prior to Congress passing the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) in 1990, athletes, artists and entertainers, were only admissible to the U.S. on H-1B Specialty Occupation Visas. Our firm has previously blogged in regards to the issues with this visa category, so it's a good job the INA introduced O & P Visas.

What are O & P Visas?

These visas are specifically applicable to the above industries. The O-1 visa may also be applicable to those in the science, business and education fields.

For both O & P Visas, the applicant requires a U.S. company, organization or agent to petition for the visa. We must also ensure that a written advisory opinion from the appropriate union or management group e.g. Screen Actors Guild (SAG), is submitted with the application.

O-1 “Extraordinary” ability or achievement

There are two types of O-1 visa:

O-1A: Sciences, Education, Business or Athletics;

O-1B: Arts, Motion Picture and Television.

The applicant must demonstrate extraordinary ability/achievement by sustained national or international acclaim and must be coming temporarily to the U.S. to continue work in the area of extraordinary ability/achievement.

What is meant by “Extraordinary” Ability or Achievement?

Athletes: This means a level of expertise indicating that the person is one of the small percentage who has risen to the very top of the field of endeavor.

Artists: This means distinction. Distinction means a high level of achievement in the field of the arts evidenced by a degree of skill and recognition substantially above that ordinarily encountered to the extent that a person described as prominent is renowned, leading, or well-known in the field of arts.

Entertainers: in the motion picture or television industry, the applicant must demonstrate extraordinary achievement evidenced by a degree of skill and recognition significantly above that ordinarily encountered to the extent the person is recognized as outstanding, notable or leading in the motion picture and/or television field.

The threshold is very high and it is important that you discuss your eligibility for the O-1 visa with an experienced immigration attorney. Certain criteria must be met in order to demonstrate “extraordinary” ability and achievements.

O-2 Visas may be available for Individuals accompanying an athlete or member of the entertainment industry to assist in a specific event or performance.

P-1 Visa for Athletes, Entertainers and artists and their essential support personnel

The threshold for athletes under the P-1 visa is lower than the O-1A. Individual athletes may also be initially admitted to the U.S. For up to 5 years (compared to 3 years on the O-1). Sports teams, however, are only admissible for the period necessary to complete the competition or performance, generally 6 months. Athletes still need to show that they are at an “internationally recognized” level.

Individual entertainers are not admissible under the P-1 visa and entertainment groups (like sports teams) are only admissible for the duration of a specific event only.

The area is not clear-cut and it is essential that the athlete, artist or entertainer consults with a professional prior to applying for any of these types of visas. It could be that an O or P visa is not necessary nor appropriate. Some professional and amateur athletes and entertainers are admissible on B-1/B-2 visas, or even under the visa-waiver program (ESTA).

Our firm has experience with both O & P Visas. Please complete our contact form to schedule a detailed consultation in this matter or call us on +44(0)203 102 7966