R-1 Religious Worker Visa

The R-1 visa is intended for nonimmigrants coming to the U.S. temporarily to be employed as a minister or in another religious vocation or occupation.

Basic Requirements:
  • A “Religious occupation” is one that:
    • needs to be related to a traditional religious function, and the members of the denomination must recognize it as a religious occupation.
    • is mainly associated with the promotion or carrying out the religious creed and beliefs of the denomination.
  • Ministers are those who are authorized by their religious denomination and have been trained according to the religious denomination’s standards to conduct religious worship and other duties usually performed by the clergy.
  • The R-1 visa beneficiary must be employed by:
    • A non-profit religious organization in the U.S.
    • A non-profit religious organization authorized by a group tax exemption holder to use its group tax exemption, or
    • A non-profit religious organization which is affiliated with a religious denomination in the U.S.
  • For the R-1 visa:
    • If the petitioner is a non-profit religious organization, it must show a letter from the IRS indicating that the organization is tax-exempt.
    • If the petitioner is a non-profit religious organization recognized as tax-exempt under a group of tax exemption, besides showing the IRS indicating that the organization is tax-exempt, it must show the group ruling that the group is tax-exempt.
    • If the petitioner is a non-profit religious organization affiliated with a religious denomination in the U.S., it must show:
      • the IRS’s letter indicating is a tax-exempt organization.
      • documentation establishing the organization’s religious nature and purpose and organizational literature that describes the organization’s religious purpose and nature of the organization’s activities.
      • certification from a religious denomination indicating that the petitioning organization is affiliated with the religious denomination.
    • All religious organizations petitioning a religious worker must show how the religious worker is going to be supported while in the U.S.
    • When a religious worker claims self-support, s/he needs to submit evidence of participation in a program for temporary uncompensated missionary work within the petitioning organization.
      • In this case, the petitioning organization must show that the organization has an established program for temporary, uncompensated missionary work in which:
        • foreign workers previously worked under the R-1 visa;
        • missionary workers are traditionally uncompensated;
        • the organization provides formal training for missionaries; and
        • participation in such missionary work is an established element of religious development in that denomination.
      • The petitioner needs to show that the petitioner’s religious denomination has missionary programs in the U.S. and abroad.
      • The petitioner needs to provide evidence of the religious worker’s acceptance into the missionary program.
      • The petitioner needs to provide evidence of the duties and responsibilities of the uncompensated missionary work.
    • The petitioner needs to provide copies of the religious worker’s bank records or budgets, indicating the sources for religious worker’s self-support.
  • For those coming to work as a minister, the following is required:
    • A copy of the religious worker’s certificate of ordination or similar documents,
    • Evidence of recognition of the religious worker’s qualifications as a minister in the religious denomination.
    • Evidence of the religious worker’s completion of theological studies at an accredited theological institution recognized by the religious denomination.
    • In case the religious denomination does not required theological studies, it will be necessary:
      • Requirements for ordination in the religious denomination;
      • A list of duties performed once ordain;
      • The denomination’s levels of ordination; and
      • Evidence that the religious worker met all the requirements for ordination.
Period of Stay:
  • The initial period of stay can be for 30 months; the maximum period of stay cannot exceed five years.
Dependent Family Members:
  • Dependents including legal spouses and children under 21 years of age are eligible for R-2 visas for the duration of the R-1 visa. R-2 visa holders are not allowed to work.
  • Requires submission and approval of an R-1 Visa Petition with supporting evidence to U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (“USCIS”).  Following approval, the employee must apply for and obtain an R-1 visa at a U.S. consulate abroad before being admitted to the U.S.
  • Canadian citizens are considered visa-exempt and may be admitted with an R-1 approval notice and valid passport.
Processing Times:
  • USCIS processing times are subject to change but average 5-7 months unless premium processing service is used, in which case USCIS will review the petition within 15 calendar days.
  • Visa appointment availability is subject to change but appointments are generally available within 1-2 weeks, with visas being issued within 7-10 days following, assuming no government administrative processing delays.
Maintaining R-1 Visa Status:
  • The visa is employer-specific, meaning that an employee cannot change employers without government authorization.
  • The visa is job-specific, meaning that an employee cannot change positions without government authorization if a material change in job duties will occur.