Groups of entertainers or artists seeking to come to the United States to work usually will need to petition for a P-1 visa which is subdivided into two categories: P-1A and P-1B.
"A" in this case stands for athletes and this visa is designed specifically for a group of internationally recognized athletes coming to the U.S. to compete or perform at a specific athletic competition at a level that is internationally recognized. An athlete seeking to perform individually can still seek a P-1A visa.
This visa is for an internationally recognized entertainment or artistic group that is seeking to come to the U.S. to perform. Specifically, it is given to each member of the group but only as they are all coming to the U.S. to perform together as a group. Individuals who are in groups but are seeking to perform on their own, are not eligible for P-1 visas. Moreover, the group must be internationally recognized as being outstanding in their particular genre over a long and continuing amount of time.
P-1 visas are also available to support and essential staff who play an integral role in the work of the entertainment group or athlete and provides support services that cannot be replicated or provided by a U.S. worker.
Since the visa is awarded only to entertainment groups, the group itself must be the one to garner international recognition and acclaim. The group must have a high level of achievement in their genre that is shown by recognition and skill above that which is normally encountered. It is not enough that the group achieves this level of recognition in their own country. They must have also achieved it in at least one other country. Of course, the group must be seeking the visa to come perform in the U.S. in their capacity as an internationally recognized entertainment group.
The group must also have been together and working for at least one year and at least 75 percent of the members of the group must have had a substantial and continued relationship with the group for at least one year. The one year requirement can be waived in the case where an individual member has to be replaced due to illness or other exigent circumstances. All of the individual members must also have no intention of permanently leaving their foreign country of residence.
P-1B Visa Petition Process
To start, the U.S. sponsor of the group must file a form I-129 (Petition for Non-Immigrant Worker) with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). It must list the names of the members of the group and can only be filed within one year of when the group would actually come to the U.S. Essential staff and personnel seeking to join the group cannot be listed on this Form I-129. They must be listed on a separate Form I-129.
Evidence: In addition to the Form I-129, the petitioner must also provide evidence of the following:
- The group has been together and performing on a regular basis for at least one year
- A statement from the petitioner listing each member of the group and dates when each member started working with the group on a regular basis
- Written contracts between the sponsoring petitioner and the group or a written summary of the terms of the contract, if it is oral, under which the group will be employed
- Evidence that the group is internationally recognized
- An itinerary with dates and locations of the performances
Evidence of International Recognition: perhaps the most important documentation that would need to be provided is that which shows that the group has achieved international recognition and acclaim for a long and continuing period of time. If the group has been nominated for or won a significant international award or prize such as a Grammy, then this may suffice to support the claim of international recognition. In the absence of an award or nomination, the petitioner must submit documentation of at least three (3) of the following:
- The group has performed or will perform in a starring or leading role in a distinguished production or event
- The group has garnered international acclaim for outstanding accomplishments in their genre
- The group has or will be performing as a lead, star, or taking on a critical role for a distinguished organization
- The group has a record of commercial or critical success
- Other organizations, including governments, have substantially recognized the achievements of the group
- Contracts showing that the group commands a high salary, or will do so.
Finally, a written opinion or consultation written by an appropriate consulting entity or individual must be included. The consultation must be completed by a labor, management, or peer group or organization in the U.S. and must discuss the nature of the group's work and qualifications. The consulting organization can also submit a letter of no objection in the alternative. Where there is no group of peers or consulting organization, the petitioner can seek to have the application judged only on the evidence of record.
Obtaining the Visa
If a petition is granted and the member or members are not in the United States already on a different visa, the members must go to the nearest U.S. embassy to apply for the visa. If the members are already in the U.S on a different visa, there is no need for them to leave the country and return. They can remain in the country and begin performing under the P-1B visa.
Dependents & Essential Personnel
The spouse and unmarried children under the age of 21 of the P-1 visa holder may seek P-4 visas to accompany the P-1 visa holder to the U.S. Neither the spouse nor the children can take on employment while they're in the U.S. The dependents may attend college. Similarly, essential support staff who must accompany the group and are necessary for it to perform can also apply for a P-4 visa.
Post-Admission: Changing Employers
P-1B visa holders are only allowed to work for the employer who sponsored their visa in the first place. However, if a new sponsor is available and the visa holder wishes to switch to that sponsor, the new sponsor must file a new petition, including seeking an extension of the original visa, on behalf of the visa holder. The group cannot start performing for the new sponsor until the petition is approved.
Post-Admission: Extensions of Visit
If the visa holder requires additional time to complete their work for the employer for which they were approved in the first place, the employer must file a request to extend the visa period for the individual. Extensions may be granted for a period of up to one year but there is no limit on the number of extensions that can be requested.
Post-Admission: Dual Intent
While P-1 visas are considered "non-immigrant" meaning they do not on their face allow the member of the group to seek permanent residence in the U.S., the doctrine of "dual intent" does appear to be applicable to these visa holders. This means that while the visa holder is authorized to come to the U.S. for a limited time to perform, they also can petition to become a permanent resident. The doctrine of dual intent does not apply to essential support staff in the U.S. on a P-1 visa.
Post-Admission: End of Employment
If the employment contract of the visa holder (including support staff) ends for a reason other than completion of the contract or voluntary resignation, the employer and/or the U.S. petitioner must pay the visa holder the reasonable expense of transportation back to the visa holder's country.
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