USA Sports Visas

When making plans to travel to the US for the purposes of participating in organised sport, it is especially important to ensure that you secure the right visa. Upon arrival in the US, immigration officials at the border will ask questions about the purpose of your visit and check whether your visa is appropriate for the type of activity you intend to carry out once you have been permitted entry into the country.

If an immigration officer is not satisfied with your explanation or the documentation you have provided, they can decide to refuse you entry and order that you be returned to your home country on the next available flight. Individuals who are refused entry to the United States may find it more difficult when applying for future US visas or visa-free travel to the US.

Most people travelling to the US to take part in organised sport will require one of the following visas:

B-1 Visa (Business Visitor)

B-1 Business Visitor Visas are primarily intended for business travel to the US, but can be used in certain circumstances by individuals intending to undertake specific sporting activities. Sportspersons from eligible countries who qualify for the US Visa Waiver Program can undertake these activities as business visitors without needing to apply for a B-1 visa.

A B-1 visa may be appropriate for:

  • professional sportspersons intending to participate in an event or competition on an unpaid basis (receiving prize money is permitted)
  • members of a non-US team whose income is mainly earned in that team’s home country, and which intends to participate in an international event
  • amateur Ice Hockey players who have been invited for try-outs

B-2 Visa (Tourist Visa)

B-2 Visitor Visas cover a range of tourist activities for visits to the US, including participation in amateur sport. Individuals travelling to the US on an amateur sport tour, or for a social or charitable sport event, may find a B-2 visa to be their most straightforward visa option.

B-2 visas permit an individual to stay in the US for up to six months at a time on a strict visitor basis, with no paid work permitted during their stay.

Sportspersons from eligible countries who qualify for the US Visa Waiver Program can participate in amateur sports activity as a tourist without needing to apply for a B-2 visa in advance.

O-1A Visa (Extraordinary Ability)

A limited number of individuals may be eligible to enter the US to undertake sporting activities on the basis of an O-1 Visa. In order to qualify, applicants must be able to show evidence that they have been nationally or internationally recognised for their achievements and that they intend to travel to the US to participate in a specific competition or event.

An O-1 visa holder’s support staff or dependants may be eligible to join them via an O-2 or O-3 visa respectively, though applications for these visas are always linked to the original O-1 visa application.

P-1A Visa (Elite Sportspersons)

This visa is intended for elite sportspersons who are competing or performing professionally, or who are at an ‘internationally recognised level of performance’. This visa may also be appropriate for coaches who intend to join a team or franchise operating within the US.

P-1A visas are also suitable for individuals intending to work in the US as part of a theatrical ice skating production.

If granted, a P-1A visa is usually valid for the duration of the event, performance or competition, up to a maximum of five years. It is possible to extend a P-1A visa by up to five additional years if the event, performance or competition will continue.

P-1S Visa (Sports Support Staff)

A P-1S visa is intended for a professional sportsperson’s support staff, such as coaches, trainers, interpreters or referees. A P1-S visa application must be tied to a P1-A application, as the support staff will need to provide evidence that they are ‘integral’ to the P1-A applicant/holder’s performance.

P1-S visas can be issued for the duration of their sportsperson’s event, performance or competition, but only up to an initial period of one year. P1-S visas can be extended by up to five years at a time but eligiblity remains tied to the associated sportsperson’s P1-A visa.