The United States is undoubtedly the global center for poker. It has both the highest population of poker players and the highest number of casinos of any country in the world, making it a prime travel destination for fans of the card game. Many international poker players enter the United States on a tourism visa (the B-2 visa) or ESTA. Sometimes, though, someone entering the United States to play poker might require a type of employment-based visa called a P visa. When is a tourism visa enough, and when should you consider the P visa?


What is a P Visa?

A P visa is, in the most general terms, a performer’s visa. There are a few types, but we will focus on the P-1A visa. The P-1A visa is intended for athletes, meaning anybody who competes in a sport competitively. Specifically, it is for athletes who are either internationally recognized, part of a major league sports team, or both. Poker is a competition-based game, and so USCIS considers its players to be athletes for visa purposes.


When Should You consider a P Visa?

There are many circumstances in which a successful poker player may want to consider a P visa. Visitor visas (including both the B-2 and ESTA) do not allow for “gainful employment” of any kind, but the ways in which this applies to poker players are ambiguous. USCIS has no official guidelines for when poker (or other forms of casino-based gaming) stops being a leisure activity with money involved and starts being employment. That said, here are some things that you may want to keep in mind when deciding if your U.S. poker adventure may be construed as employment.


  • Do you have a financial backer? This can be someone who supplies your bankroll, pays for your travel/lodging expenses, or both.
  • Do you have employment outside of poker, or is poker your primary source of income?
  • Do you or will you receive sponsorships as a result of playing poker in the United States?
  • Do you receive income from poker-focused social media?


This is certainly not a definitive list, but it’s a good start when determining if you need more than what a B-2 visa or ESTA can offer. Entering on the wrong visa can lead to long-standing or even permanent immigration-related consequences.


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What Are the Criteria for a P-1A Visa?

If you’ve read the above and think that a P-1A visa sounds right for you, you’re probably wondering what you need to do to get one. There are seven criteria for the P-1A, and any petition must show that the applicant satisfies at least two. Since poker functions differently from the types of sports most typically seen with P-1A visas, these three criteria are usually the most relevant:


  • A written statement from a member of the sports media or a recognized expert in the sport which details how you are internationally recognized;
  • Evidence that you are internationally ranked; and
  • Evidence that you have received a significant honor or award in the sport.


These can seem scary, but there are many ways to fulfill them! A “recognized expert”, for example, can mean a fellow accomplished poker player you know. If you’ve ever had a mentor or coach, they can offer a letter. This can also include press. For poker players, this often looks like being named as a primary player in an event summary, even if it describes a loss! Of course, it is always better to have publications that are specifically about you and your successes.


Rankings, meanwhile, are rather flexible. When there are quite literally millions of poker players worldwide, ranking at #5,892 is a very impressive ranking! Most poker players who compete in international competitions (inside or outside of the United States) have a ranking assigned to them via several well-known and respected ranking websites.


A significant honor or award in the sport is likely the most challenging criterion to fulfill, but it does not need to be used if you fulfill the first two criteria very well.  Championship titles, World Series of Poker bracelets or rings, Player of the Year awards from competitions or publications, and induction into the Poker Hall of Fame are all examples of a significant honor or award.



No visa is suitable for everyone in a particular field. Sometimes, a visitor visa is perfectly fine for a poker player coming to the United States to play. Sometimes, though, you really want to consider applying for a P-1A visa. If you’re thinking that it might be the right visa for you, we can help! Our experienced sports immigration team will prepare the entire petition for you. All it takes to get started is a 30-minute consultation, which you can sign up for here.


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