More Details on O, P, & Q Visas for Artists, Athletes, & Entertainers

The MurthyDotCom NewsBrief Artists, Athletes, and Entertainers: O, P, and Q Visas (30.Mar.2021) provides a general overview of some of the options available to artists, athletes, and entertainers seeking to come to the United States. However, determining which of these options may work best in any given case can depend upon a variety of factors. Further, while these categories are clearly useful for applicants such as premiere artists and professional baseball players, some may be surprised to learn just how inclusive these classifications can be.

Artist and Entertainers Broadly Defined

An artist, as that term is used in the immigration context, is an individual who is engaged in the field of visual arts, culinary arts, or performing arts. As such, the term “artist” includes entertainers, but also refers to a large group of professions beyond those who are principal creators or performers. Professions that fall within this category include: directors, set designers, lighting designers, sound designers, choreographers, choreologists, conductors, orchestrators, coaches, arrangers, musical supervisors, costume designers, makeup artists, flight masters, stage technicians, and animal trainers.

O-1 Extraordinary Ability Requirement

Eligibility for O-1 classification requires a showing of extraordinary ability. For an artist, this means being prominent within the field – that is, displaying a high level of recognition for being renowned, leading, or well-known as compared to the artist’s peers working in the same field. The required level of recognition can be evident by the receipt of a significant national or international award or prize. Alternatively, it can be proven by meeting at least three other criteria, such as having performed in a starring role in a production with a distinguished reputation, having achieved major commercial success, evidencing reviews in major publications, and commanding a high salary.

P Category Useful When O Category May Not Apply

The P category is often a good alternative to the O-1 classification in cases of foreign national artists who may not be able to meet the O-1 requirements. The P-1 may be a good option for a group of entertainers / artists that has been recognized as outstanding in the particular field. This category requires that the entertainer / artist prove the existence of a substantial relationship with, and playing an integral part in the group for at least one year. As a far more limited option, performing artists who come to participate in a reciprocal exchange program may be sponsored for the P-2 classification. This category is open to individuals as well as groups.

Individual artists or entertainers or entertainment groups can be sponsored for the P-3 category to allow them to perform, teach, or coach a culturally unique program. In a 2012 decision, Matter of Skirball Cultural Center, the Administrative Appeals Office clarified that the term “culturally unique…is not limited to traditional art forms, but may include artistic expression that is deemed to be a hybrid or fusion of more than one culture or region.” Therefore, it is possible for a culturally unique program to cross regional, ethnic, or other boundaries. More details of this decision are available in AAO on Culturally Unique Standard in P-3 Petitions (6.Aug.2012), also available on MurthyDotCom.

Q Cultural Exchange

Other artists who are coming to the United States as part of an international cultural exchange program administered by a U.S. employer for the purposes of sharing the history, culture and traditions of their country of nationality may be sponsored for the Q nonimmigrant classification. This is of shorter duration and is limited to designated programs.

Factors to Consider in Selection of Category

In order to select the best category for an artist or entertainer, one should carefully review the individual’s qualifications. In addition, the purpose and length of the proposed trip, type of employer, whether support personnel will be needed, and whether the artist or entertainer is coming individually or as part of a group should be taken into account when evaluating the most appropriate nonimmigrant classification.

Options for Athletes

Athletes coming to the United States potentially may qualify for O-1 or P-1 status. The O-1 category is limited to individual athletes and is subject to an extremely high eligibility standard. The sponsored individual must demonstrate extraordinary ability in his or her field and intend to continue working in the same area. When evaluating the O-1 option for athletes, it is important to consider not only the candidate’s past accomplishments, but also the proposed activity in the United States. For example, an individual who has achieved extraordinary ability as a tennis player, but who can no longer compete, may not necessarily be eligible for the O-1 classification as a tennis coach. A person who possesses or previously possessed extraordinary athletic ability, and wishes to enter the U.S. as an O-1 to coach will need to demonstrate a record of extraordinary ability as a coach.

An alternative to the O-1 classification for athletes is the P-1 category, which, while still highly selective, is generally easier to obtain than the O-1. The level of achievement required for P-1 classification is that of “renowned, leading, or well-known in more than one country,” which is lower than the extraordinary ability required for O-1. The P-1 category can be used for individual athletes or athletic teams, and can be used for participants in both professional and amateur sports.


There are immigration options for talented artists, entertainers, and athletes, but each category has specific requirements. It is important to carefully review these requirements, and to consider timelines and other logistical aspects for each case. Immigration planning needs to be an integral part of arranging for performances, competitions, and other artistic or athletic exhibitions within the United States. Attorneys at the Murthy Law Firm are experienced in providing guidance and representation to artists, entertainers, and athletes.

While some aspects of immigration have changed in significant ways in the years since MurthyDotCom began publishing articles in 1994, there is much that is still the same. From time to time, clients of the Murthy Law Firm are referred to articles, like this one, which remains relevant and has been updated for our readers.


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Disclaimer: The information provided here is of a general nature and may not apply to any specific or particular circumstance. It is not to be construed as legal advice nor presumed indefinitely up to date.