What Is The Difference Between O Or P Visas For Athletes Coming To The United States?

B, O, and P visas are usually the most appropriate for foreign athletes looking to enter the United States. Most athletes visiting the United States and not getting paid for their services usually just come on a B visitor visa. The issue with B visas is that they are often denied, do not come with work authorization, and need more recourse to appeal a denial.

On the other hand, both P and O visas allow athletes to obtain work authorization to come to the US for multiple years. Whether an athlete requires an O visa or the P visa depends on the purpose the athlete is coming for and the qualifications of the athlete.

P visas are for athletes coming to the United States to compete in internationally recognized events. Technically, athletes on P-1 visas are not supposed to train or coach on these visas. Thus, if an athlete needs to coach, do sponsorship activations, promote seminars, or other activities, then the P visa may not be appropriate. Also, if the athlete only trains in the United States but competes overseas, the P-1 visa may not be appropriate. There are exceptions, but they must be carefully argued by an immigration attorney to the USCIS for the best chance of success.
O-1 visas come with much more flexibility than the P-1 visas. In addition, the O-1 visa only requires the athlete to come Stateside to compete in internationally recognized events. O-1 visa petitions should include an itinerary that comprises a list of possible activities for an athlete, such as training, seminars, sponsorship activations, film appearances, and other activities affiliated with being an athlete. O-1 visas are also more helpful if the athlete plans to apply for permanent residence (green card) eventually.

Proving eligibility for a P visa is different and generally more accessible than verifying eligibility for the O-1 visa. This is why most athletes obtain a P visa rather than an O visa. However, remember that along with being eligible for the P-1 visa, the athlete must also come to compete in events that require the participation of international athletes. This requirement is becoming a famous avenue for USCIS officers to deny visas. 

The P-1 visa is easier to prove eligibility for because most requirements are objective, and either an athlete meets them, or they do not. If athletes can prove two of the seven categories below, they should be at least eligible for the P-1 visa. 

  • Objective Requirements
    • a significant contribution to a foreign country’s national team
    • A governing regulatory body issuing a favorable consultation letter
    • Participating in an NCAA collegiate season
    • An international ranking from a credible resource
    • Completing a season with a Major League team in the previous season
  • Subjective Requirements
    • industry expert support letters
    • Significant sports-related awards with explanations

The O-1 visa is harder to prove because the requirements are subjective, and USCIS officers have much more leeway to discredit evidence and deny eligibility. To verify eligibility for an O-1 visa, an athlete must have one significant international award or prove three of the O-1 eligibility categories:

  • One major award:
    • Olympic medal
    • World Championships
    • Athlete of the Year awards
    • Etc. 
  • Or three of the O-1 visa categories:
    • Important lesser national and international awards
    • Serving as a judge on the work of others
    • Detailed favorable letters from experts
    • Special original contributions 
    • Writing scholarly articles in reputable outlets
    • Being a member of a prestigious organization or group
    • Articles from reputable sources that talk about the beneficiary
    • Remuneration 
    • Employment in critical/essential capacity in the past

Let Us Help You, Your Immigration, & Your Family

We understand that immigration can be a complex and stressful process. That’s why we’re here to help you every step of the way. We’ll work with you to understand your individual needs and goals, and we’ll develop a personalized plan to help you achieve them. We’re here to provide you with the peace of mind you need so you can focus on what’s important: your future

Scroll to Top