P-1 Work Visa for Outstanding Artists, Educators, Businesspeople, Entertainers, & Athletes

These short-term work visas are available to outstanding workers in the sciences, arts, education, business, entertainment, and athletics, coming to the U.S. for temporary events.

A variety of short-term visas are available to people coming to the U.S. to do specialized work. Among these is the P-1 visa for outstanding workers in the sciences, arts, education, business, entertainment, and athletics. (This comes from the Immigration and Nationality Act at I.N.A. § 101(a)(15)(P), 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(15)(P), at the USCIS regulations at 8 C.F.R. § 214.2(p).)

A job offer from a U.S. employer is the first, basic requirement. (We discuss additional requirements below.) There is no annual limit on the number of people who can receive P visas.

Here are some of the advantages and disadvantages of this specialized work visa:

  • You can work legally in the U.S. for your P-1 visa sponsor. If, however, you want to change jobs, you must get a new visa.
  • A P-1 visa can be issued fairly quickly.
  • The visa will be granted for the length of time needed to complete a particular event, tour, or season, up to a maximum of one year for everyone except athletes. You may also be allowed some extra time for vacation, as well as promotional appearances and stopovers incidental and/or related to the event. P-1 athletes may be admitted for a period of up to five years with one extension of up to five years. Individual athletes, however, may remain in the U.S. for up to ten years.
  • You may travel in and out of the U.S. or stay continuously for as long as your visa stamp and status are valid.
  • Your spouse and unmarried children under age 21 may accompany you, but they may not accept employment in the United States.

Basic Eligibility Requirements

P-1 visas are available to athletes or athletic teams that have been internationally recognized as outstanding for a long and continuous period of time. Entertainment companies that have been nationally recognized as outstanding for a long time also qualify. Unlike O visas, which always rest on the capabilities of individuals, P-1 visas can be issued based on the expertise of a group. However, there’s a lot of overlap between uses and qualifications for O and P visas. (For information on O visas, see "O-1 Work Visas for Extraordinary Talent in Business, Education, Science, Arts, or Athletics.")

In order to get P-1 visas for members of an entertainment company, each performer must have been an integral part of the group for at least one year, although up to 25% of them can be excused from the one-year requirement, if necessary. This requirement may also be waived in exceptional situations, where due to illness or other unanticipated circumstances, a critical performer is unable to travel.

The one-year-membership requirement is for performers only. It does not apply to support personnel, nor to anyone who works for a circus, including performers.

Particular Requirements for Athletes

To qualify as a P-1 athlete, you or your team must have an internationally recognized reputation in the sport. Evidence of this must include a contract with a major U.S. sports league, team, or international sporting event, and at least two of the following:

  • proof of your, or your team’s, previous significant participation with a major U.S. sports league
  • proof of your participation in an international competition with a national team
  • proof of your previous significant participation with a U.S. college in intercollegiate competition
  • written statement from an official of a major U.S. sports league or the governing body of the sport, detailing how you or your team is internationally recognized
  • written statement from the sports media or a recognized expert regarding your international recognition
  • evidence that you or your team is internationally ranked, or
  • proof that you or your team has received a significant honor or award in the sport.

As you might guess, you will need to provide documentation of all this.

Particular Requirements for Entertainers

P-1 visas are not available to individual entertainers, but only to members of groups with international reputations. Your group must have been performing regularly for at least one year, and 75% of the members of your group must have been performing with that group for at least a year. When your employer files a petition on your behalf, the employer will have to supply proof of your group’s sustained international recognition, as shown by either its nomination for, or receipt of, significant international awards or prizes, or at least three of the following:

  • proof that your group has or will star or take a leading role in productions or events with distinguished reputations
  • reviews or other published material showing that your group has achieved international recognition and acclaim for outstanding achievement in the field
  • proof that your group has and will star or take a leading role in productions or events for organizations with distinguished reputations
  • proof of large box office receipts or ratings showing your group has a record of major commercial or critically acclaimed successes
  • proof that your group has received significant recognition for achievements from organizations, critics, government agencies, or other recognized experts, or
  • proof that your group commands a high salary or other substantial remuneration.

Again, you will need to provide documentation of all this.

Exception to One-Year Membership Requirement for Circuses

Circus performers and essential personnel do not need to have been part of the organization for one year to get a P-1 visa, provided the particular circus itself has a nationally recognized reputation as outstanding.

Waiver for Nationally Known Entertainment Groups

USCIS may waive the international recognition requirement for groups that have only outstanding national reputations, if special circumstances would make it difficult for your group to prove its international reputation. Such circumstances could include your group having only limited access to news media or problems based on your group’s geographical location.

Waiver of One-Year Group Membership Requirement

USCIS may waive the one-year group membership requirement for you if you are replacing an ill or otherwise unexpectedly absent but essential member of a P-1 entertainment group. This requirement may also be waived if you will be performing in any critical role of the group’s operation.

Application Requirements

Once you have been offered a job, getting a P visa is a two- or three-step process:

  • Your U.S. employer files what’s called a "visa petition" on USCIS Form I-129, with supporting documents, including a consultation report from a peer group or labor management organization with expertise in your field and proof of the group’s international reputation. The petition can be filed up to one year before a scheduled event. If you’re already in the U.S. in lawful status, the visa petition can simultaneously ask that your status be changed to P, in which case, the process will successfully end here.
  • If you’re outside the U.S., then a visa petition must still be filed, but after approval, you take that approved visa petition to the U.S. consulate in your home country in order to obtain a P visa. You’ll need to pay a fee and fill out State Department Form DS- 160, Nonimmigrant Visa Application, beforehand, online. Also bring a valid passport; one U.S. passport-type photo; and marriage or birth certificates of any spouse or children who will be accompanying you.
  • Finally, you use either your visa or (if you are from Canada, a visa-exempt country) the notice of your approved visa petition to enter the U.S. and claim your P visa status.

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