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What kind of visa can you get as an athlete coming to the U.S.?

If you’ve ever watched the Olympics, you’ve probably realized that the United States is an athletic powerhouse. We’re an international leader in many sports, and we recruit top talent from around the world.

If you’re an accomplished athlete, you may be able to come to the United States to work. There are three main types of visa that athletes can typically apply for: O-1, P-1 and H-2B. In this post, we provide a brief comparison of these visa types:

O-1 visa:

The O-1 visa is the athletic equivalent of getting accepted to Harvard. In order to qualify, you must be able to demonstrate that you are among the most accomplished athletes in your sport, and you must meet several criteria demonstrating your international prestige. In many cases, you will also need to have a peer group consultation attesting to your ability.

Both athletes and athletes’ agents may apply for an O-1 visa. The visa is good for three years, with the possibility of unlimited, one-year extensions.

P-1 visa:

The P-1 visa also has multiple application criteria, but it is less difficult to obtain than the O-1 visa. There are fewer criteria still for athletes contracted under the National Hockey League or Major League Baseball. Like the O-1 visa, the P-1 visa also has a peer group consultation requirement.

Both individual athletes and teams may apply for the P-1 visa. For individuals, this visa is good for five years and allows for one five-year extension. For teams, the visa is good for one year with unlimited one-year extensions. If you enter the U.S. as part of a team, you may not engage in any work separate from your team while in the country.

H-2B visa:

The H-2B has a completely different set of application requirements than the O-1 and P-1. It is a temporary visa, meaning your U.S. employer must demonstrate that they are only hiring you for seasonal, intermittent or one-time employment. The tricky aspect of the H-2B visa is it requires labor certification by the Department of Labor (discussed in detail in a previous post). The U.S. issues a maximum of 66,000 H-2B visas per year.

The H-2B visa is only good for the duration of employment—not to exceed one year. Visa holders can apply for extensions totaling a maximum of three years. Extensions can be more difficult to obtain for H-2B visa holders compared to O-1 and P-1 visa holders.

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