R-1 Visa

The R-1 is a non-immigrant visa for Religious Workers coming temporarily to the U.S. as a minister or to work in a religious vocation or occupation.

Candidates may be ministers, professionals who want to work in a religious vocation or occupation that requires a U.S. bachelor degree or its foreign equivalent, or other religious workers employed in a religious vocation or occupation.

The religious denomination must be in Bona Fide and should benefit tax exemption, as described in section § 501(c)(3) of the IRS (Internal Revenue Service, which is part of the Treasury Department).

The R-1 visa is available for:

  • Those who want to work as temporary part-time employees (20 hours per week) in a non-profit religious organization in the United States (religious teachers, liturgical workers, missionaries, or catechists);
  • Those who want to work as ministers of a religious community or group (priests, nuns, rabbis and monks).

The petitioning organization must file an application with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), submitting Form I-129 (Petition for Nonimmigrant Alien Worker) to obtain an approval notice. Then, the candidate may apply for the R-1 visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate abroad.

Thus, the basic requirements to qualify for an R-1 Visa are the following:

  • Be a member of a religious denomination with a bona fide nonprofit religious organization in the U.S. that has been affiliated for at least two years immediately preceding the filing of the Form I-129;
  • Have received a job offer from the same organization or an affiliate thereof;
  • Be coming to the U.S. to work at least in a part-time position;
  • Be coming to work as a minister or to perform a religious vocation or occupation;
  • Not have worked in the U.S. in any other capacity;
  • The religious denomination or its affiliate shall enjoy tax exemption;
  • Have spent a year outside the U.S., if you have already received an R-1visa during five years.

Religious workers may qualify for U.S. lawful permanent residence (Green Card) as a special immigrant religious worker. The criteria for Green Card are nearly identical to the eligibility requirements for an R-1 non-immigrant classification except that the individual must have worked as a minister or as a religious worker for at least two years before the filing of the lawful permanent residence application.

Both the worker and the employer must submit valid certificates and documents. The employer must also certify detailed information about the religious organization, its membership and affiliations, and finally any previous religious workers in possession of an R-1 visa. He or she has to prove the ability to pay the salary as well as to include details of the proposed work and the qualifications of the employee.

The USCIS may grant the R-1 visa for an initial period of 30 months, with another possible extension of 30 months, for a total period of stay of 60 months.

In addition, the R-1 visa holder's spouse and children (unmarried and under 21 years of age) are eligible to apply for an R-2 dependent visa. R-2 visa holders are not eligible to work in the U.S and can remain in the country until R-1 visa holder maintains the legal status.

Contact an immigration attorney for more information on the R1 religious worker Visa.

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