The two most popular visas for professional Canadian athletes moving to the US are the P-1 and the O-1.
The P-1 is a temporary visa for athletes who are internationally recognized as professionals in their sport. The O-1 is a temporary visa for athletes who can prove that they have “extraordinary ability” in their sport. As the “extraordinary ability” threshold is extremely high, most professional athletes find it easier to obtain the P-1 visa. One is considered internationally recognized if they have a contract with a major league team in sports such as baseball, basketball, hockey, and football. The P-1 is also available to individual athletes, such as tennis players and golfers, as long as certain criteria are met. Note that other visas are available for athletes who cannot meet the P-1 requirement. P-1 visas can be issued for a maximum of five years to start, and O-1 visas can be issued for a three-year maximum to start. Each type of visa can be renewed or extended, but limitations apply.
To become a permanent resident of the US and acquire a Green Card, Canadian athletes moving south must either prepare a self-petition or find an employer willing to sponsor them for permanent residency.
Permanent residency is attractive as it allows Canadian athletes to remain in the US indefinitely without being limited by visa-related restrictions, as noted above. Moreover, a Canadian athlete who moves to the US and becomes a permanent resident also ensures their eligibility for Medicare. Finally, permanent residency leads to US citizenship, which some Canadian athletes may ultimately desire.