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athletes, o-1 visas, and the nba (by josh wildes)

The National Basketball Association attempts to expand every year as it continues to go international, making the push to become a globalized business. Being the best basketball league worldwide, it is filled with extremely talented players, many of whom are not from America. In fact, some of the best NBA players in the history of the league come from all over the world. Some examples include, among others, Dirk Nowitzki (Germany), Steve Nash (Canada), Yao Ming (China), Tony Parker (France), Marc and Pau Gasol (Spain), and Peja Stojakovic (Croatia).

However, people often overlook the challenges that these foreigners face when they come to America to work. Playing in the NBA, after all, is a job for these athletes. Therefore, before international athletes come play in the NBA, they must apply for a U.S. visa. One of the strongest visas an athlete can obtain is the O-1 visa. 

Athletes are among the talented individuals such as singers, entertainers, actors, and artists, etc. who can be considered “Aliens of Extraordinary Ability” to whom O-1 Visas are granted. In addition to the O-1 visa, the O-2 visa can be issued to “Assistants to Aliens of Extraordinary Ability.”  

The O-1 visa’s high standard requires the foreign national to provide adequate documentation to demonstrate that he/she has a sustained national or international acclaim in their field.

In addition, the individual must provide substantial evidence to prove that he/she meets 3 of the 6 evidence categories defined by statute, as well as a written advisory opinion from a labor union or relevant peer group. The O-1 visa applicant must also show that he/she has an offer of employment in the United States to work in his/her field of expertise (or several offers of employment from multiple sources, along with a third-party Agent to petition on the individual’s behalf and connect him/her to the multiple employers).

If the individual can do this and is granted the visa, the initial admission period would be three years, which can be extended or renewed in one-year increments. Many extraordinary basketball players and athletes apply for and are granted the O-1 visa to come play for a team in the NBA.

Even coaches and trainers, if they are truly extraordinary, can get an O-1 visa themselves. If not, however, they can apply for the O-2 visa to accompany and assist the athlete. The O-2 visa is issued to foreigners who want to come to the U.S. to assist with the performance of the O-1 alien. This person must establish that they are an integral part of the performance because of their skills or long relationship with the extraordinary alien. Note, an O-2 is not authorized to work in the U.S. independent of the O-1 and will be admitted for the same length as the principal.

In the event that the foreign national has not yet risen to the O-1 level, he/she may qualify for the ‘P’ visa, which is a type of temporary employment visa often issued to international artists, athletes, entertainers, and their spouses and children. 

With offices in New York, New Jersey, Florida and California, Wildes & Weinberg, P.C., perhaps the United States’ premier law firm concentrating in the immigration and nationality field, grew out of the practice of Leon Wildes, Esq., a distinguished immigration practitioner in New York City. Its original clientele consisted of individuals, rather than corporations, who had been placed in deportation or exclusion proceedings, lost their American citizenship, or were otherwise in jeopardy. Founded in 1960, the practice expanded steadily as word of its outstanding achievements in individual cases spread in the international community, attracting clients from a broad range of nations.

Wildes & Weinberg prides itself on its international athletic clients, including Pelé, Greg Norman, Eric Cantona, Virginia Wade and more, including foreign NBA players. We are always excited for international stars to come play sports here in America. But, before they storm the courts and our media, we hope they choose the right Visa!

For more information on this or any other type of immigrant visa/issue, please contact Managing Partner Michael Wildes at

by Josh Wildes, Director of Communications

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