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u.s. immigration law in the international world of tennis

Tennis boasts a staggering one billion fans worldwide, solidifying its status as one of the most beloved sports globally. Enabled by the International Tennis Federation (ITF), which is comprised of 210 member nations, the sport’s popularity revolves around a widespread network of tournaments. Contrary to common acuity, the United States is not the epicenter of tennis. Rather, according to the ITF’s 2019 Global Tennis Report, a remarkable 79.3% of the sport’s 87 million players hail from other countries. Even more notable is the dominance of international talent at the highest echelons of professional tennis, with a staggering 90% of the top ten Association of Tennis Professional (ATP) singles players, 80% of the top ten ATP doubles players, 80% of the top ten Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) singles players, and 70% of the top ten WTA doubles players originating from abroad.

Despite the sport predominately featuring international players, the United States hosts several prestigious tournaments that the top athletes desire to compete in. The most distinguished among them is the US Open, which is one of the four major ‘Grand Slam’ events in the tennis world. Other popular U.S. tournaments include the Indian Wells Open, Cincinnati Open, Miami Open, and the historic Hall of Fame Open. The United States is also home to some of the finest tennis academies, attracting scores of athletes who seek ideal training opportunities. This ecosystem underscores the significance of U.S. immigration law, an often-overlooked topic, as foreign athletes generally require proper visas to be able to enter the United States in order to compete or even train. In that regard, it is worth noting some options that are available to these foreign individuals.

One of the strongest visa options available to tennis athletes is the coveted O-1 visa. The O-1 is highly sought after because an individual can apply for an O-1 visa at any time during the year, there are no visa quotas, and it can be approved for an initial three-year period. However, the standard of eligibility is relatively high, as it is reserved for those who can demonstrate that they possess “Extraordinary Abilities.” To meet this high standard, the applicant must provide adequate documentation demonstrating sustained national or international acclaim in their field. This generally involves proving that they meet three of the evidentiary categories defined by the regulations. Other requirements include the submission of a written advisory opinion from a labor union or relevant peer group, as well as offers of employment in the United States to work in their field of expertise.

Even certain coaches and trainers can merit O-1 visa classification themselves if they possess truly exceptional skills. If they are unable to meet the standard, however, then they can apply for an O-2 visa to accompany and assist the principal O-1 athlete. An applicant for an O-2 visa must establish that they are an integral part of the O-1 athlete’s performance because of their skills or long relationship with the principal visa holder.

If the athlete has not yet risen to the level required for an O-1 visa, then another good option would be to seek a P-1 visa, which is commonly granted to athletes who can prove that they are “internationally recognized.” Although this also requires that the applicant meet certain eligibility requirements, it is a lesser standard than the O-1, and therefore more common for specific athletic events. Like the O-1 visa, the P-1 requires consultation with appropriate labor unions, or peer groups in occupations where there is no union. The P-1 is generally granted for the time period needed to complete the athletic event and is also a great option for international teams.

There are other, less common options out there, and navigating the visa process is crucial for tennis players wishing to compete or train in the United States. In summation, while the O-1 visa remains the apex option, the pathway to obtaining it requires substantial evidence of national or international acclaim. For professionally recognized athletes still on the rise, the P visa might be a  more viable alternative. Regardless of which path is pursued, understanding these options, in addition to others, and seeking expert guidance, such as that offered by specialized firms like Wildes & Weinberg, P.C., can significantly streamline the journey for athletes wishing to explore their tennis ambitions on American soil.

With offices in New York, New Jersey, Denver, Florida, as well as by appointment in California and Tel Aviv, Israel, Wildes & Weinberg, P.C, is one of the United States’ premier law firms 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. 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 any questions about the immigration process, feel free to contact Josh Wildes at

By Josh Wildes (with a special thanks to Aden Lyons)

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