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The R-1 Visa for Temporary Religious Workers

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The R-1 visa is arguably one of the most underrated work visas available in the U.S. immigration system. The R-1 visa program enables foreign nationals to travel to the United States for the purpose of engaging in temporary employment, as a minister, or in another religious vocation or occupation on at least a part time basis (20 hrs/week).

To qualify for the R-1 visa, the foreign national must be employed by (1) a non-profit religious organization in the United States or (2) a religious organization that is authorized by a group tax exemption holder to use its group tax exemption or (3) a non-profit religious organization affiliated with a religious denomination in the United States.

In addition, the foreign national must be a member of the religious denomination for at least two years immediately prior to filing for an R-1 visa.

What is considered a religious occupation under the program?

Religious occupations are those whose duties:

  • Primarily relate to a traditional religious function
  • Are recognized as a religious occupation within the denomination
  • Are primarily related to, and clearly involve, inculcate, or carry out the religious creed and beliefs of the denomination

Who may not be eligible for the R-1 visa?

Administrative or support personnel including janitors, maintenance workers, clerical employees, or fund-raisers, or similar occupations that involve soliciting donations. Limited administrative duties that are incidental to religious functions are permissible.

Benefits of the R-1 Visa Program

Dual Intent

The R-1 visa is a dual intent visa. A dual intent visa allows a foreign national to enter the United States as a non-immigrant for a temporary specified period of time, but allows the foreign national to retain the option of applying for a green card in the future.

Dependents

R-1 visa holders may bring their family members (spouse and unmarried child under age 21) to the United States on a R-2 visa classification. R-2 dependents however cannot accept employment under an R-2 visa classification.

Period of Stay

The R-1 visa is beneficial because it allows the religious worker to remain in the United States for an initial period of up to 30 months. Extensions may also be granted for an additional 30 months. A religious worker’s total period of stay in R-1 classification may not exceed five years (60 months). A religious worker and his or her employer may discuss employment-based green card sponsorship at the end of the religious worker’s employment.

Application Process

The application process begins when the non-profit or religious organization files Form I-129 Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker on behalf of the foreign national. Once the I-129 petition is approved, the foreign worker may schedule an appointment for the non-immigrant R-1 visa at a consular post abroad. At the interview, the consular official will determine whether the foreign national is eligible to receive the R-1 nonimmigrant visa.

On Site Inspections

It is common for USCIS to conduct a pre-approval inspection of the site of employment before approval of the I-129 petition. Satisfactory competition of the inspection is a condition for approval of any petition.

For more information about the R-1 visa application process please visit our website.