Visa application

What is the R-1 religious worker visa?

The R-1 visa is a nonimmigrant visa available to foreign nationals seeking to temporarily enter the United States to work as a minister or to perform a religious vocation or occupation. An employer must submit a petition in the United States with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for approval.

A foreign national (FN) with an approved R-1 visa is granted an initial stay of up to 30 months. An additional 30-month extension is permitted, for a total stay of up to five years.

More information about the R-1 religious worker visa follows below:

Key terms: R-1 nonimmigrant religious worker

USCIS defines the following key terms associated with the R-1 nonimmigrant religious worker visa as:

Minister: An individual fully trained and authorized by a religious denomination to conduct religious worship and perform duties of the clergy of the denomination.

Religious vocation: A formal lifetime commitment, through vows, investitures, ceremonies or similar indicia to a religious way of life. Examples include nuns and monks, as well as religious brothers and sisters.

Religious occupation: Primarily relates to a traditional religious function and is recognized as a religious occupation within the denomination. The duties must be primarily related to the religious creed/beliefs of the denomination and are not primarily administrative.

Religious denomination: A religious group of believers that is governed or administered under a common type of ecclesiastical government and includes one or more of the following:

  • A recognized common creed or statement of faith shared among members
  • A common form of worship
  • A common formal code of doctrine and discipline
  • Common religious services and ceremonies
  • Common established places of worship or religious congregations
  • Comparable indicia of a bona fide religious denomination

General requirements for R-1 religious worker visa

In order to be eligible for an R-1 religious worker visa, the foreign national must:

  • Be a member of a religious denomination that has a bona fide nonprofit religious organization in the U.S. for the immediate two-year period prior to filing the R-1 petition
  • Be applying to work for a nonprofit religious organization in the U.S. that is a 501(c)(3) religious organization exempt from taxation
  • Have membership in the same type of religious denomination for which they will work in the U.S.
  • Must be coming to the U.S. to work solely as a minister or in a religious vocation/occupation for at least 20 hours a week
  • Must be coming to the U.S. at the request of the R-1 petitioner and to work solely for that petitioner

Necessary requirements for petitioning religious organization

The petitioning religious organization files the I-129, Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker, with the appropriate USCIS Regional Service Center in the U.S. The employer must attest to and provide certain evidence, including, but not limited to:

  • The number of members of the prospective employer’s organization.
  • The number of employees of the prospective employer who will work at the same location as the FN and a summary of those employees’ duties and responsibilities.
  • Title and detailed job description for the position offered to the FN.
  • Information about whether the FN will receive salaried or non-salaried compensation and the details of the compensation.
  • If the FN will be self-supporting: Documentation that the FN’s position is part of an established program for temporary uncompensated missionary work.
  • Confirmation the FN will be employed at least 20 hours per week and will not engage in secular employment.
  • The number of special immigrant petitions and R-1 petitions filed by the prospective employer in the past five years.
  • Documentation to establish the religious nature of the organization.
  • If the FN is to engage in work as a minister: Evidence of the FN’s qualifications to serve as a minister, such as the FN’s ordination or acceptance of the FN’s qualifications as a minister in the religious denomination.
  • Photographs of the facility where the FN will be employed.

USCIS will conduct an onsite inspection of the religious organization before adjudicating an initial I-129 petition. The inspection is valid for five years for all subsequent I-129 R-1 petitions.

Once approved by USCIS, the FN, their spouse and any minor children (under age 21) must apply for R-1/R-2 nonimmigrant visas at a U.S. consulate. If the FN is in lawful nonimmigrant status in the U.S., the FN may be eligible to change status to R-1, and dependent family members to R-2.

Neither spouses nor minor children are eligible for work authorization in the U.S.

Petitioning organizations and religious workers should consider consulting with experienced immigration counsel to discuss options and best strategies for applying for an R-1 visa.

As always, please do not hesitate to contact Garfinkel Immigration Law Firm at 704-442-8000 or via email with any questions.

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