Green cards and visas for professional athletes

If you are an athlete who wishes to work or compete in the United States, there are several different options available, whether it be a green card or a temporary work visa.

Green cards for athletes

If you wish to qualify for a green card — which would allow you to live and work in the United States permanently — there are four potential routes:

  • EB-5 investor immigrant visa
  • EB-1 extraordinary ability immigrant visa
  • EB-2 employer-sponsored immigrant visa
  • Family-based immigrant visa


EB-5 investor immigrant visa

To obtain this employment-based immigrant visa, you must be willing to invest a minimum of $500,000 dollars in the United States. This option is most suitable for those who wish to immigrate to the United States and work in professional sports, such as Major League Baseball. The investment need not relate to your work as an athlete, and you do not need to quit your day job to learn about being an investor or entrepreneur. Fortunately, there are regional centers, such as the Green Card Fund based in Phoenix, that can work with you to find a wise investment for your money. That way, you can focus your energies on what you do best: athletics. This is a good option to keep in mind, because it does not require an employer sponsor. 

EB-1 extraordinary ability immigrant visa

This visa is reserved for those who are considered elite among their fellow athletes, and, like the investor visa discussed above, it does not require an employer or family sponsor. While it is not easy an visa to obtain, if you are an athlete of extraordinary ability, and you are unable to find an employer to sponsor you for a green card, it is an option you should keep in mind. 

EB-2 employer-sponsored immigrant visa

In addition to the EB-1 extraordinary ability visa discussed above, there is a related immigrant visa available for athletes of exceptional ability, which falls under employment-based immigration category, second preference (EB-2). Proving exceptional ability is easier than proving extraordinary ability, but it is still a high standard to meet. The EB-2 exceptional ability visa requires an employer sponsor.

Family-based immigrant visa

For those athletes with family members living lawfully in the United States, either as U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents, you may qualify for a green card through the more traditional family-based route.  Qualifying family members who may petition for you include spouses, parents, siblings, and children over 21. 


Temporary visas for athletes

If you do not qualify for a green card, you may still come to the United States to participate in your sport on a temporary basis. The most common work visas for athletes are the:

  • O-1 Visa
  • P-1 Visa
  • H-2B Visa
  • B-1/B-2 Visa


O-1 Visa

This visa is available to athletes of “extraordinary ability.”  To qualify, you must be able to show that you are “one of the small percentage” of athletes who has “risen to the top of the field of endeavor.”

P-1 Visa

Athletes who cannot satisfy the extraordinary ability standard may still qualify for a P-1 visa if they can show that they are internationally recognized and are coming to the U.S. to participate in a league or event with a distinguished reputation. Athletes under contract with the NFL, MLB, NHL, or NBA are good candidates for this visa.

H-2B Visa

Athletes who cannot satisfy the higher standards for the O and P visas discussed above may still qualify for a temporary work visa in the United States under the H-2B category. They will, however, need an employer to sponsor them, and the employer will first have to obtain a labor certification from the Department of Labor.  Athletes playing under a minor league are good candidates for the H-2B visa, but the visa typically only lasts for the duration of the season.

B-1 Visa

Professional athletes who receive no salary or payment other than prize money from a tournament or sporting event are eligible for a B-1 visa, as business visitors.

B-2 Visa

Finally, amateur athletes competing in an event for which they will receive no payment are eligible for B-2 Visas as visitors for pleasure.


If you wish to come to the United States to work as an athlete, contact me today to discuss your options.

Call (480) 404-6334 or schedule your consultation online

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