Fundamentals of the R-1 Visa Application

Are you a religious worker or minister of a religious organization seeking a temporary work visa in the U.S.? If you are coming to the United States to perform a religious vocation for a religious group which you have been affiliated with for at least two years preceding the application, you might be eligible for an R-1 Nonimmigrant Religious Worker visa. Read on to find out more information about the R-1 visa and whether this might be an option for you! 

Overview of the R-1 Visa

An R-1 visa is intended for noncitizens coming to the United States seeking temporary residence to work at minimum, part-time (at least 20 hours per week) as a minister or in a religious occupation. Those seeking an R-1 visa must be employed by a non-profit religious organization in the U.S. that is authorized by a group tax exemption holder or an organization affiliated with a religious denomination in the U.S. 

It’s important to note that since the R-1 is a temporary visa, it does not lead to U.S. citizenship! Initially, R-1 visas grant a stay for a period of up to 30 months and can be extended for an additional 30 months. Ultimately, the maximum stay under R-1 status is five years. 

R-1 temporary visas cannot be self-petitioned. In order to get an R-1 visa, the foreign national seeking the visa must be sponsored by a bona fide non-profit religious organization that the foreign national has been a member of for at least two years immediately prior to filing the petition. 

Some of the professions that would qualify for an R-1 visa include: 

  • Minister: an individual authorized by the religious denominations to conduct religious worship 
    • Lay preachers are not included in this category 
  • Religious Vocation: an individual under a formal lifetime commitment to a religious way of life 
    • ie) Nuns, monks, and religious brothers and sisters 
  • Religious Occupation: individuals working within a denomination carrying out the religious creed and beliefs of the denomination 

Petition Process and Evidentiary Requirements

As R-1 visas cannot be self-petitioned, the U.S. employer, who acts as the Petitioner, must file a Form I-129 (Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker) on behalf of the noncitizen seeking the R-1 visa. 

Petitioners must also provide proof of the following three things: 

  1. Proof of Tax-Exempt Status 
    • Evidence that the religious organization is tax-exempt 
  2. Proof of Salaried or Non-Salaried Compensation, or Self-Support 
    • Evidence that demonstrates how it intends to compensate the religious worker 
  3. Proof of Denominational Membership and Evidence Regarding Prospective Position 
    • Evidence that religious worker is a member of the denomination and their qualifications to hold this employment position  

R-1 Petitioners are also required to host an on-site inspection before or after a final decision is made to grant the foreign national the visa. The religious organization hosting you must provide a physical address where you will work and the USCIS may inspect the work location to verify your hours, compensation, and duties. 

Visas for family members

If you are an R-1 Beneficiary, your spouse and unmarried children under the age of 21 may be eligible for R-2 classification. Regardless of the time your spouse and children may have spent in the United States, under the R-2 nonimmigrant status, they will be granted the same period of time in the U.S. as you. R-2 dependents, however, are not authorized to work in the United States. 

Benefits of this Visa

The primary benefits of the R-1 visa program are as follows: 

  • You can stay in the United States for up to 5 years total; 
  • And you can get visas for your spouse and children; 
  • There are no annual caps on R-1 visas and it is not based on a lottery system; and 
  • There is a pathway to a Green Card.

So if you qualify for the R-1 visa, you can take full advantage of it to work in your vocational occupation and also potentially get a Green Card in the future!

Why Hire an Immigration Attorney?

The R-1 process can be a very complicated process to navigate through on your own. An immigration attorney can help both you and your employer navigate through the entire process and make sure that your application is completed completely, on time, and without errors. 

If you would like to learn more about applying for an R-1 visa, contact us for an assessment or consultation. 


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