The United States is one of the main destinations for athletes from all sports due to the excellence of American sports institutions. Whether it’s for competitions, training, or general events, many foreign athletes seek to obtain a U.S. visa to temporarily enter the country and participate in activities related to their sport. However, when athletes start the visa application process, they often get confused with the different available categories (B-1, B-2, H-1B, H-2B, O-1, P-1, etc.).
It is important to clarify certain factors for an athlete to determine the non-immigrant visa category to be requested:
(i) The nature of the sporting event, considering whether the event will provide compensation to the athlete or not;
(ii) The duration of the event, and;
(iii) The athlete’s skills, whether the individual is a professional or amateur athlete.
Considering that many individuals already have a B1/B2 visa stamped in their passports, in this article, we will specifically address the application of this B category (B-1 and B-2), explaining how athletes fit into these categories based on the three factors listed above.
B-1 Visa Requirements
According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the B-1 non-immigrant visa is eligible for people who intend to go to the United States to participate in commercial or professional activities incidentally and temporarily. For athletes, specifically, the primary requirement for entering the U.S. on a B-1 visa is that the activity or event they will participate in:
(i) Is of a temporary and incidental nature, and;
(ii) Does not offer payment to the athlete. An exception to the remuneration rule is possible cash prizes offered by the sports event.
Once the above requirements are met, the athlete can enter the U.S. territory with a B-1 (or B-1/B-2) visa since the immigration law prohibits receiving a salary from any U.S. company or entity or any remuneration in exchange for private lessons or training. Therefore, an athlete entering the U.S. on a B-1 visa cannot perform activities in exchange for monetary compensation from any U.S. source.
Advantages and differences of B Visas for athletes
The main advantage of the B-1 visa over other visa categories for athletes is that it does not require prior approval through a petition to USCIS. This means that athletes can directly apply for a B-1 visa at U.S. Consulates, reducing costs and processing time.
It is worth noting the differences between the B-1 and B-2 visas for athletes. While both B-1 and B-2 visas are applied for directly at U.S. Consulates and are eligible for athletes going to the United States for specific and temporary events and activities, the B-2 visa is only applicable to amateur athletes. Therefore, amateur athletes intending to participate in sports competitions or events with a social or charitable nature can enter the United States on a B-2 visa. For professional athletes, on the other hand, entry through the B-1 visa is compulsory.
In summary, it is evident that the B-1 visa is the ideal visa category for professional athletes wishing to participate in occasional sports competitions or events in the United States without receiving payment from U.S. sources. Meanwhile, the B-2 visa is the ideal visa category for amateur athletes who wish to participate in occasional sports competitions or events in the United States without receiving payment from U.S. sources.
Therefore, athletes can apply for a B-1/B-2 visa at the nearest U.S. Consulate, which is valid for 10 years and allows a maximum stay of 180 days. If the athlete already has a valid B-1/B-2 visa stamped in their passport, there is no need to apply for a new B-1 or B-2 visa. They simply need to inform the purpose of their trip upon entry to the U.S., stating that they are participating in short-term competitions or training that meet the above requirements.
If the activities the athlete will perform in the United States do not meet the criteria described above, whether for the B-1 or B-2 visa, or if there is a need to stay in the U.S. for a longer period, there are other visa categories that may be more suitable, as mentioned at the beginning of this article (H-1B, H-2B, O-1, P-1, etc.). In such cases, it is recommended to seek advice from an immigration lawyer for guidance specific to the individual’s circumstances.
Written by Fernanda Lana, Victor Braga and Fabiana Guerra