A short-term U.S. work visa known as the P visa is available to outstanding athletes, athletic teams, and entertainment companies (including circuses) with a job offer from a U.S. employer. (This comes from the federal Immigration and Nationality Act at I.N.A. § 101(a)(15)(P), 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(15)(P) and the Code of Federal Regulations at 8 C.F.R. § 214.2(p)). Their essential support personnel may also be granted visas with the same letter-number designations.
There is no annual limit on the number of people who can receive P visas.
Some of the advantages and disadvantages of the P visa include:
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. P-1 visas can be issued based on the expertise of a group.
In the case of an entertainment company, each performer who wishes to qualify for a P-1 visa must have been an integral part of the group for at least one year, although up to 25% of them can be excused from this one-year requirement, if need be. 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 requirement is for performers only. It does not apply to support personnel. It also does not apply to anyone at all who works for a circus, including performers.
To qualify as a P-1 athlete, the person or team of which he or she is a member must have an internationally recognized reputation in the sport. Applicants will need to demonstrate this to U.S. immigration authorities by showing a contract with a major U.S. sports league, team, or international sporting event, and at least two of the following:
In 2021, USCIS issued guidance and an update to its Policy Manual attempting to clarify the phrase “major United States sports league or team.” It stated that it should have a "distinguished reputation commensurate with an internationally recognized level of performance." Indicators might include the level of viewership, attendance, revenue, and major media coverage; past participation by internationally recognized athletes or teams; the international ranking of athletes competing; or documented merits requirements for participants.
P-1 visas are not available to individual entertainers, but only to members of groups that have an international reputation. The group must have been performing regularly for at least one year, and 75% of its members must have been performing with that group for at least a year.
When the U.S. employer files a petition on the applicant's behalf with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the employer will have to supply proof of the 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:
Circus performers and essential personnel need not have been part of the organization for one year to get a P-1 visa, provided the particular circus has a nationally recognized, outstanding reputation.
USCIS may waive the international recognition requirement for groups that have only outstanding national reputations, if special circumstances would make it difficult for the group to prove its international reputation. Such circumstances could include the group having only limited access to news media or problems based on geographical location.
USCIS may waive the one-year group membership requirement for an applicant who will be replacing an ill or otherwise unexpectedly absent but essential member of a P-1 entertainment group. This requirement may also be waived if the applicant will be performing in any critical role of the group’s operation.
P-2 visas are available to artists or entertainers, either individually or as part of a group, who come to the U.S. to perform under a reciprocal exchange program between the U.S. and one or more other countries. All essential support personnel are included. The applicant will need to prove the legitimacy of the program by presenting a formal, written exchange agreement. In addition, a labor union in the U.S. must have either been involved in the negotiation of the exchange or have agreed to it.
The U.S. individual or group being exchanged must have skills and terms of employment comparable to the person or group coming to the United States.
P-3 visas are available to artists or entertainers who come to the U.S., either individually or as part of a group, to develop, interpret, represent, teach, or coach in a program that is considered culturally unique. The program may be of either a commercial or noncommercial nature.
The P-3 applicant must be coming to the U.S. to participate in a cultural event or events that will further the understanding or development of an art form. In addition, the employer will have to submit on the applicant's behalf:
Essential support personnel of P‑3 aliens should also request classification under the P-3 category. The documentation for P-3 support personnel should include:
Highly skilled, essential persons who are an integral part of the performance of a P-1, P-2, or P-3 visa holder may also be granted P visas (with the same visa designation as the primary visa holder). These persons must perform support services that cannot be readily performed by a U.S. worker and that are essential to the successful performance of services by the P-1, P-2, or P-3 visa holder.
The support person must have appropriate qualifications to perform the services, critical knowledge of the specific services to be performed, and experience in providing such support to the P-1, P-2, or P-3 visa holder. (See 8 C.F.R. § 214.2 (p)(3).)
For details about what to expect and do during the P visa application process, see U.S. Immigration Made Easy, by Ilona Bray (Nolo).
You might also wish to consult an immigration attorney for a full personal analysis of your eligibility, and for help with the application process.