O-1 Visas for Athletes- General OverviewO-1 Visas for Athletes

O-1  visas are temporary work visas that allow foreign athletes who have “extraordinary ability in athletics” to enter the United States (U.S.) to train, attend seminars, participate in sponsorship activations, make promotional appearances, and engage in other activities that are associated with being an athlete. Extraordinary ability means that the athlete is among a small percentage of people who have arisen to the very top of the sport. The athlete can have dual intent, meaning that the athlete can plan on staying in the U.S. temporarily and returning home after the period of authorized stay or the athlete can plan on remaining in the U.S. permanently. The athlete is not required to have foreign-residence to be eligible for this type of visa.

How to Prove Extraordinary Ability?

There are two options in this regard:

Option A

The athlete must either have sustained national or international acclaim by receipt of a major internationally recognized award. For example, the athlete has an established sports career in which he or she won multiple Olympic medals.

Option B

The athlete must meet at least three of the following criteria:

  • Received nationally or internationally recognized awards;
  • Be a member of an organization that requires outstanding achievement;
  • Featured by a third-party who published material about the athlete in professional or major trade publications;
  • Participated on a panel or individually, as a judge of the work of others in the sport;
  • Made major scientific, scholarly or business-related contributions to the sport;
  • Written scholarly articles in the sport, in professional journals, or other major media;
  • Have evidence of employment in a critical or essential capacity at an organization with a distinguished reputation; or
  • Commands a higher salary in relation to others in the field.

Sponsorship Requirements

O-1s cannot petition for themselves. The athlete must use  either a U.S. agent or a U.S. employer. The process begins by filing form I-129 Petition for a Non-Immigrant Worker with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The sponsor may file up to one year before the work begins but should file at a minimum of 45 days before employment. If the athlete is terminated, the agent or employer is responsible for the athlete’s transportation costs to return home.

The petition is automatically revoked if the employer or sponsor goes out of business, files a written withdrawal, or notifies USCIS that the athlete is no longer employed. All other circumstances require notice before revocation.

O-1 Visas for Athletes- Validity Period

Initially, the O-1 visa may be issued for up to three years. The athlete may be admitted 10 days before and stay 10 days after the validity period but cannot work during this time. Extensions may be granted in one-year increments. The athlete may travel outside the U.S., while the  extension is pending and request that the approval be sent to the consulate abroad.

O-2 Visas for Support Staff

Support personnel that is integral to the athletes’ performance may be eligible for an O-2 visa. The O-2 applicant has to have critical skills and experience with the athlete, which cannot be performed by anyone else. The O-2 must have non-immigrant intent and must maintain a foreign residence that he or she has no intention of abandoning.

O-3 Visas for Spouses and Children

Spouses and children of the O1 athlete may qualify for O-3 visas. The O-3 visa holder is allowed to reside in the U.S., as well as engage in full-time study but cannot seek employment. The O-3 visa is valid for up to 3 years.

Sports Visa Attorney

Cheryl Fletcher is a sports immigration attorney who assists foreign athletes with their visa applications. If you meet the O visa requirements, she will complete the application form and put together a comprehensive application package to improve your chances of getting the visa.  Please call  561-507-5772, email: [email protected]her.com, or contact us via or contact form.