The Visa for Religious Workers
The R-1 Religious Worker visa allows a foreign national to temporarily work in United States for a non-profit religious organization, or for a non-profit organization in a strictly religious occupation. This organization must be affiliated with a religious denomination in the United States. To qualify for the R-1 visa, the foreign national must be a member of a religious denomination, and this denomination must be officially recognized as a non-profit religious organization in the United States for at least 2 years immediately before the filing of the petition. The U.S. religious organization in this instance is considered the employer, and as in other types of employment sponsorships, the organization will file the R-1 petition on behalf of the R-1 worker and will pay all associated costs of filing for the visa. An R-1 visa cannot be issued at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate abroad without prior USCIS approval of the employer’s R-1 petition.

The petitioning religious organization must provide:

  • Evidence that it is a non-profit 501(c) (3) tax exempt organization as designated by the IRS, or alternatively that it is affiliated with a such non-profit organization.
  • Evidence that establishes the religious nature and purpose of the organization.
  • Description of the intended religious work and the job duties of the religious worker.
  • The position must be religious in nature and cannot be one that does not perform religious duties (such as maintenance or administrative work). However, professional workers (such as religious teachers) may qualify if they have a bachelor’s degree.
  • Evidence showing how the organization will compensate the religious worker, including specific monetary or in-kind compensation (such as housing), or if the religious worker will be self-supporting, evidence showing he or she will hold a position in an established program for temporary non-compensated missionary work as part of a broader international program of missionary work sponsored by the denomination.
The religious worker must provide:

  • Evidence that the religious worker is a member of a religious denomination with a bona fide non-profit religious organization in the United States for at least 2 years immediately before the filing of the R-1 petition.
  • Evidence of the religious worker’s qualifications. If he/she will be working as a minister, evidence of the worker’s ordination or acceptance as a minister in the religious or completion of the denomination’s requirements for ordination.
Period of Stay

The R-1 status is being granted for an initial period of admission for up to 30 months. Subsequent extensions may be granted for up to an additional 30 months. The religious worker’s total period of stay in the United States in R-1 classification cannot exceed 5 years (60 months).

Family of R-1 Religious Workers

An R-1 religious worker’s spouse and unmarried children under the age of 21 may be eligible for R-2 classification. An R-2 is not eligible to work in the U.S. based on this visa classification.

Site Visits

Because there had been a history of fraudulent applications from religious organizations in the past, the USCIS requires most R-1 petitioning organizations to go through a site visit prior to approving their R-1 petition.

Government officers specializing in fraud investigations will visit the petitioning religious organization to verify that there is a valid entity conducting religious activities in that location, review documents such as 501(c)(3) paperwork and authenticate the veracity of the claims made on the R-1 petition. Once the petitioner is verified, they are allowed to sponsor R-1 petitions for a period of 3-5 years without an additional site visit.

Because of the increased scrutiny on this type of visa, it is important to consult with an experienced immigration attorney before filing your case. Call our office today if you are ready to file for the R-1 visa for yourself or for your employee!
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