R-1 Visa for Temporary Religious Workers
An R-1 Visa is a nonimmigrant visa that may be issued to 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 as a minister or in a religious vocation or occupation.
Eligibility Requirements for an R-1 Visa:
- be a member of the same religious denomination as the religious organization you plan to work for in the United States for at least two years before that organization files a petition on your behalf;
- be coming to work as a minister or in a religious vocation or occupation in the United States;
- be employed by a non-profit religious organization in the United States (or an organization affiliated with the religious denomination in the United States); and
- work at least part time, an average of at least 20 hours per week.
Before you can apply for an R-1 visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate, a Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, Form I-129, must be filed on your behalf by a prospective employer and approved by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Both the petitioning organization and the religious worker must satisfy certain requirements, which are listed on the USCIS website. For more information about the petition process, eligibility requirements, documentary requirements and other important information, see R-1 Temporary Nonimmigrant Religious Workers on the USCIS website.
USCIS will notify your prospective employer about the petition approval or denial, by sending a Notice of Action, Form I-797.
After USCIS has approved the petition, you will then be eligible to apply for the R-1 Visa at the U.S. Consulate. There are several steps in the visa application visa process. The order of these steps and how you complete them may vary at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate where you apply. Please consult the instructions available on the embassy or consulate website where you will apply.
For Some Temporary Religious Activity, a Visitor (B) Visa Can Be Used
Certain religious related activities can be undertaken using a visitor (B) visa, such as private worship, prayer, meditation, informal religious study, and attendance at religious services or conferences in the United States. Also, a visitor visa is generally appropriate for ministers of religion seeking to come to the United States temporarily, whose wages and reimbursement will be paid by their own religious group outside the United States, and when coming for:
- An evangelical tour, without taking an appointment with any one church; or
- Exchanging pulpits temporarily with U.S. counterparts; or
- Members performing missionary or voluntary service for a denomination, such as to aid the elderly or needy.
When you have a religious vocation or profession, or are a religious worker coming temporarily to be employed, with your salary paid by a non-profit religious organization in the United States, the visitor visa is not permitted, and you must have a religious worker (R) visa or other work visa.
Period of Stay
USCIS may grant R-1 visa status 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).
USCIS counts only time spent physically in the United States in valid R-1 status toward the maximum period of stay. See the related policy memo for details.
Family of R-1 Visa Holders
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 dependent is not authorized to accept employment based on this visa classification.
If you are a religious worker seeking to come to the U.S. or a non-profit religious organization or an organization which is affiliated with the religious denomination in the United States seeking to employ a foreign national as a religious worker, we can help. Schedule a consultation or call our office at 919.755.0505.