Religious Workers Visa

Religious Visa

An R-1 visa authorizes temporary work in the US in a religious capacity. In the R-1 process, the employer is called the “R-1 Petitioner” and the prospective employee is called the “R-1 Beneficiary.”

R-1 Benefits

A person granted R-1 status may work in the US for a US employer for up to two years at a time, with extensions available up to a maximum of five years. The R-1 visa is a nonimmigrant visa. The R-1 visa will name the specific employer authorized to employ the R-1 beneficiary. Any significant changes in the terms of employment require the advance approval of a new R-1 visa or R-1 petition filed with the Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS). This is no limit on the number of new R-1 visas that may be issued each year.

There is no limit on the number of R-1 employers the R-1 beneficiary may work for, provided the R-1 beneficiary has a separate approval for each employer. An R-1 beneficiary may be approved for concurrent employment with more than one qualifying employer. The R-1 worker’s spouse and unmarried children under 21 are eligible for R-2 status. An R-2 status holder is not eligible for a work permit.

R-1 Requirements

Employer Requirements. The R-1 employer must be a religious organization or affiliate. This is generally demonstrated by showing the employer either has been or would be recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a bona fide non profit religious organization. The employer must demonstrate it has the present financial capacity to support the R-1 worker. The R-1 worker’s support cannot be derived from the worker’s own fund raising. The R-1 employer must be part of an identifiable denomination or adhere to an identifiable religious belief. The employer must have a bona fide need for the R-1 worker’s services.

Job Offer Requirements. The job offered must be for full time work in a religious occupation. There are three main types of recognized religious occupations:

  • ordained ministers (such as a priest, pastor, rabbi, imam, Buddhist monk),
  • persons who have made a long term religious commitment (such as nuns, deacons, and Christian monks), and
  • those performing other religious work (such as cantors, music leaders, teachers, counselors, and translators). Work that is primarily non-religious does not qualify (for example, church administrators, medical or technical workers, clerical workers, manual laborers, etc).

Employee Requirements. The R-1 beneficiary must be qualified to work in the religious occupation. Ministers must have the required seminary degree and or ordination certificate. Other religious workers must document their commitment and experience through certificates and reference letters. The R-1 worker must show membership in the same religious denomination as the R-1 employer for at least two years.

R-1 Process

The R-1 employer and R-1 employee must both meet the requirements for R-1 classification. In addition, the R-1 worker must show compliance with US immigration rules and be found admissible. There are two ways to obtain R-1 status: change of status through an R-1 Petition, or an R-1 Visa Stamp.

The R-1 Petition. If the R-1 beneficiary is present in the US in a valid nonimmigrant category (other than “visa waiver”) the employer may file an R-1 petition with the USCIS. The application for R-2 status for family dependents is filed at the same time. The processing time for an R-1 petition varies between 1 to 5 months. The USCIS offers premium processing, which commits it to completing case action within 15 days.

The R-1 Visa Stamp. The employee may go to an American Embassy or Consulate overseas to obtain an R-1 visa stamp. The visa stamp in the passport is required for entry into the United States in R-1 status. Dependent family members follow the same process to receive their R-2 visas. The R-1 employer and R-1 employee must both meet the requirements for R-1 classification. In addition, the R-1 worker must show compliance with US immigration rules and be found admissible. The R-1 visa stamping process normally is completed within 1 to 5 days after an interview at the American Embassy or Consulate. Any American Consulate may issue an R-1 visa. The R-1 visa is valid for two to five years, allowing multiple entries during this period. The R-1 visa may be reissued following the same process.

Because government processing times vary and a case may have special circumstances, the R-1 beneficiary should not make any final plans such as starting or terminating employment or school, traveling to or from the United States, purchasing nonrefundable tickets, selling or buying property, signing or terminating a lease, shipping or storing personal goods, etc., until R-1 status is granted.