R-1 Religious Worker Visa

The R-1 visa is a non-immigrant category designated for a religious worker to perform temporary services for a religious organization. The individual may engage in study if incidental to the primary purpose of the stay in the U.S. while maintaining valid R visa status. Also, the individual may be employed and compensated only by the religious organization through whom the status was obtained. No Employment Authorization Document (EAD) is required. R-2 visa holders are dependents of R-1 visa holders.

The following is an indication of what is required to obtain an R-1 visa.

  1. An R-1 worker need not have performed any work on behalf of the religious denomination but must have been a member of the qualifying organization for the immediate preceding two years and must be qualified to perform the duties of a religious worker.
  2. There are three categories of religious workers: (a) a minister, priest or rabbi, meaning an individual authorized to conduct religious worship; (b) a religious professional, meaning an individual who has at least a baccalaureate degree which is needed to perform his duties (i.e. director of religious education or a principal of parochial school); (c) a person who works in a religious occupation or vocation which relates to traditional religious functions, meaning the job needs to have religious significance (e.g. a religious instructor or a religious counselor).
  3. No actual petition to the USCIS is required for an R-1 worker. The applicant may make the application directly to the US consulate or to the USCIS. The R-1 visa does not require prior USCIS approval.
  4. The period of admission will be for an initial period of three years, with maximum stay in a non-immigrant category not to exceed five years.
  5. There is no application form, except when applying to USCIS for a change of status. At the consulate, a letter from the organization which will be using the applicant’s services will suffice as the application. On the other hand, if the candidate is in the United States, a change of status application must be made to the USCIS enclosing the supporting letter and documentation.
  6. The letter must be accompanied by a tax-exempt certificate of the organization and evidence of the applicant’s ability to perform the services indicated, such as diplomas, etc.
  7. The letter must establish: (a) that the denomination has a bonafide non-profit organization in the US; (b) if the applicant’s membership for two years was in and out of the US, that the overseas organization and the US organization belong to the same denomination; (c) that immediately prior to the application, the applicant was a member of the denomination for two years; (d) if a minister, that the applicant is authorized to conduct religious worship; (e) if a religious professional, that the position requires a bachelors degree; (f) if another religious occupation or vocation, that the applicant is qualified for the position offered; (g) if the applicant will be working for an affiliate organization, proof of that affiliation; (h) the details as to remuneration or if the applicant will be employed on a volunteer basis; and (i) the name and location of the specific organization which will serve as the sponsoring institution.

In summary, the R-1 visa category offers individuals with a religious background and others great opportunities to work and reside in the United States, but the religious occupation must relate to a traditional religious function. Examples of persons in religious occupations include, but are not limited to, liturgical workers, religious instructors, religious counselors, cantors, catechists, workers in religious hospitals or religious health care facilities, missionaries, religious translators, or religious broadcasters. This group does not include janitors, maintenance workers, clerks, fund raisers, or persons involved solely in the solicitation of donations.

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