R-1 Visas: Religious Workers
The Religious Worker (R) visa is for persons seeking to enter the United States (U.S.) to work in a religious capacity on a temporary basis. An R-1 is a foreign national who is coming to the United States temporarily to be employed at least part-time (average of at least 20 hours per week) by a non-profit religious organization in the United States (or an organization which is affiliated with the religious denomination in the United States) to work in a religious vocation or occupation. If you are interested in learning more about how a R-1 visa could work for you, contact us or schedule a consultation with an immigration attorney.
Qualifying as a Religious Worker
Religious workers include persons authorized by a recognized employing entity to conduct religious worship and perform other duties usually performed by authorized members of the clergy of that religion, and workers engaging in a religious vocation or occupation.
This may be done in the following ways:
- The applicant must be a member of a religious denomination having a bona-fide nonprofit religious organization in the U.S.;
- The religious denomination and its affiliate, if applicable, are either exempt from taxation or qualifies for tax-exempt status; and
- The applicant has been a member of the denomination for two years immediately preceding applying for religious worker status. The applicant is planning to work as a minister of that denomination, or in a religious occupation or vocation for a bona fide, non-profit religious organization (or a tax-exempt affiliate of such an organization).
- There is no requirement that individuals applying for “R” visas have a residence abroad that they have no intention of abandoning. However, they must intend to depart the U.S. at the end of their lawful status, absent specific indications or evidence to the contrary.
- The applicant has resided and been physically present outside the U.S. for the immediate prior year, if he or she has previously spent five years in this category. Every petition for an R-1 worker must be filed by a prospective or existing U.S. employer through the filing of a Form I-129, Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker.
An R-1 visa cannot be issued at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate abroad without prior approval of Form I-129 by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). If the foreign national is visa-exempt (e.g. Canadian), they must present the original Form I-797, Notice of Action, reflecting an approval of a valid I-129 R petition at a port of entry. There are certain general requirements which must be satisfied by the petitioning organization as well as by the religious worker, the beneficiary of the petition. The petitioning employer must submit Form I-129 including the R-1 Classification Supplement signed by the employer as well as documentation supporting both the religious organization and the worker.
Period of Stay
An R-1 status may be granted for an initial period of admission of up to 30 months. An extension of R-1 status may be granted for up to an additional 30 months. The total stay in the United States in an R-1 status cannot exceed 60 months (5 years).
Family of R-1 Visa Holders
A nonimmigrant religious worker's spouse and unmarried children under 21 years of age may be issued a R-2 visa. The dependents of an R-1 worker may study, but may not accept employment while in the United States in R-2 status. Therefore, evidence of their financial support while in the U.S. will be necessary at the visa interview.