Identifying a US work visa that accommodates foreign nationals in the equine industry, such as racehorse jockeys, show jumpers, horse trainers, grooms and other equine workers poses a serious challenge under our current immigration laws. Like other industries, there are no cookie-cutter answers and finding the right US work visa entails a thorough evaluation of the person’s background and an intricate understanding of the job to be performed. This article offers a skeletal synopsis of US work visas that immigration attorneys have been known to recommend for individuals who have been offered a job in the equine industry.
The US work visa most commonly used by our law firm is the O-1 Extraordinary Ability Visa. This visa classification is available for the highest level of workers only. In the typical O-1 visa case, our client is a jockey or show jumper who has competed and won at the national or international level. We have also used the O-1 visa category for horse trainers of national or international acclaim. While not the norm, it is possible for a groom to qualify for the O-1 visa.
Pursuant to the O-1 visa category criteria, the athlete or worker must show that he or she is one of the small percentage who has risen to the top of their field of expertise. This is done by providing documentary evidence that the individual meets the criteria listed in the immigration statute. Other equine workers may qualify for the O-2 work visa. This US visa category is a is derivative to the primary O-1 visa holder. For that reason, an individual may not apply for the O-2 visa classification independently. This derivative visa also requires the worker to have prior experience with the principal O-1 visa holder.
There is another US work visa that is used for individuals in the equine industry known as the P-1 visa. For example, the P-1 visa classification may be considered for an internationally recognized jockey coming to the US for a specific race, such as the Kentucky Derby. The P-1S is the visa classification available to those individuals who provide essential support to the P-1 athlete. Like the O-2 visa category, the P-1S is merely a derivative to primary the P-1 visa; thus, it cannot be applied for independently. It also requires the individual to have prior experience with primary P-1 visa holder.
A discussion of visa classifications for workers in the equine industry would not be complete without mentioning the H-2B visa classification because it is the visa most often sought out by backstretch workers. However, and unfortunately, this category is one of the most difficult and cumbersome US work visa categories to work with. The H-2B category is subject to numerical caps each year; requires a temporary labor certification from the Department of Labor to establish that there are no qualified US workers available, and is valid for less than a year. Additionally, employers must show that their need for the worker’s services is temporary. Irrespective of whether the job itself can be described as temporary, the employer’s need must be considered temporary– One-Time Occurrence; Seasonal Need; Peak Load Need; or Intermittent Need.