R-1 Visa

Q: How long can I stay in the U.S. on my R-1 visa and are there any extensions available?

A: The R-1 visa does not guarantee admission to the U.S. Instead, it simply allows you to travel to the U.S. and apply for admission as a temporary religious worker. An immigration inspector from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), not the consular office who issued your R visa, will make the decision as to whether or not you may be admitted to the U.S. and will also decide how long you may stay. If the immigration inspector decides that you may be admitted, you will normally be admitted for a specific period of time, which will be told to you.

USCIS is allowed to grant R-1 visa status for an initial period of admission of up to 30 months. Extensions may be granted after this initial period for up to an additional 30 months. The total period of stay allowed in the U.S. on an R-1 visa cannot exceed 5 years (60 months).

In order to obtain an extension, you must maintain your status or be seeking readmission and must satisfy the eligibility requirements for an R-1 visa. A Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker to request an extension of R-1 visa status must be filed by the employer with a supplement by USCIS, the requisite fee, and the supporting evidence.

If you have spent five years in the U.S. on an R-1 visa, you may not receive an extension of stay in the U.S. under the R classification unless you have resided abroad and have been physically present outside the U.S. for the immediate prior year. However, this limitation does not apply if you did not reside continually in the U.S. and your employment in the U.S. was seasonal or intermittent or was for an aggregate of six months or less per year, or if you reside abroad and regularly commute to the U.S. to engage in part-time employment.

Contact our office today to speak with a lawyer to learn more about your options and to begin the visa application process.

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Q: What documentation and information will I need to provide to support my R-1 visa application?

A: There are numerous documents and information required to be filed along with your R-1 visa application in order to prove your eligibility for this visa classification. Below is a list of these supporting documents:

  • Proof of tax-exempt status
    • If the religious organization has its own individual IRS 501(c)(3) letter, provide a currently valid determination letter from the IRS showing that the organization is tax-exempt
    • If the religious organization is recognized as tax-exempt under a group tax exemption, provide a group ruling
    • If the organization is affiliated with the religious denomination, provide:
      • A currently valid determination letter from the IRS showing that the organization is tax exempt;
      • Documentation that establishes the religious nature and purpose of the organization;
      • Organizational literature; and
      • A religious denomination certification, which is part of the R-1 Classification Supplement to Form I-129 (see the links to the right)
  • If you will be self-supporting
    • Documents that show you will hold a position that is part of an established program for temporary, uncompensated missionary work, which is part of a broader international program of missionary work sponsored by the denomination
    • Evidence showing that the religious organization has an established program for temporary, uncompensated missionary work in which:
      • Compensated or uncompensated foreign workers previously held R-1 status;
      • 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.
    • Evidence showing that the organization’s religious denomination maintains missionary programs both in the United States and abroad
    • Evidence of your acceptance into the missionary program
    • Evidence of the duties and responsibilities associated with this traditionally uncompensated missionary work
    • Copies of your bank records or budgets documenting the sources of self-support.
      • This may include, but is not limited to, personal or family savings, room and board with host families in the United States, donations from the denomination’s churches, or other verifiable evidence
  • If you will be paid by the religious organization
    • Verifiable evidence showing how the organization will compensate you, including specific monetary or in-kind compensation. Evidence of compensation may include:
      • Past evidence of compensation for similar positions;
      • Budgets showing monies set aside for salaries, leases, etc.;
      • Evidence that room and board will be provided to the religious worker;
      • If IRS documents such as Form W-2 or certified tax returns are available, they must be provided; and
      • If IRS documents are not available, you must explain why and provide comparable, verifiable documentation
  • Proof of membership
    • Evidence that you are a member of a religious denomination having a bona fide non-profit religious organization in the United States for at least 2 years immediately before the filing of Form I-129
  • If you will be working as a minister, you must provide:
    • A copy of your certificate of ordination or similar documents
    • Documents showing acceptance of your qualification as a minister in the religious denomination, as well as evidence that you completed any course of prescribed theological education at an accredited theological institution normally required or recognized by that religious denomination.
      • Include transcripts, curriculum, and documentation that establishes that the theological institution is accredited by the denomination
    • If the denomination does not require a prescribed theological education, provide:
      • The religious denomination’s requirements for ordination to minister;
      • A list of duties performed by virtue of ordination;
      • The denomination’s levels of ordination, if any; and
      • Evidence of the religious worker’s completion of the denomination’s requirements for ordination

Contact our office today to speak with a lawyer to learn more about your options and to begin the visa application process.

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Q: Do I qualify for an R-1 visa?

A: In order to qualify for an R-1 visa, you must meet certain specific requirements. An R-1 visa is intended for temporary entry into the U.S. for the purpose of conducting the activities of a religious worker for a period not to exceed five years.

Below is a list of qualifications for the R-1 visa classification:

  • Be a member of a religious denomination having a bona fide non-profit religious organization in the United States for at least two years immediately preceding the time of application for admission;
  • Be coming to the United States to work at least in a part time position (average of at least 20 hours per week);
  • Be coming solely as a minister or to perform a religious vocation or occupation (in either a professional or nonprofessional capacity);
  • Be coming to or remaining in the United States at the request of the petitioner to work for the petitioner; and
  • Not work in the United States in any other capacity, except as allowed under the R visa classification.

A bona fide non-profit religious organization will be one that is tax-exempt, with a valid determination letter from the IRS confirming this exemption. You must have been a member of your denomination during at least the two-year period immediately proceeding the filing date of you R visa petition, in the same denomination of the U.S. organization where you will work. To count as a religious occupation, the job duties must primarily relate to carrying out the religious creed of the organization and be recognized as a religious occupation within the denomination. Religious study or training for religious work does not constitute a religious occupation.

You are allowed to work for more than one qualifying employer as long as each of your employers submit an R-1 visa petition along with all the additional required documentation.

Contact our office today to speak with a lawyer to learn more about your options and to begin the visa application process.

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Q: What are my rights and restrictions while in the U.S. on an R-1 visa?

A: Once you have been approved for an R-1 visa, you will obtain certain rights, but there are also some restrictions on the visa.

The following is a list of some of the rights you will receive with the R-1 visa:

  • You may bring your spouse and any unmarried children under the age of 21 along with you to the U.S.
  • You may receive payment for the services you perform.
  • You may study either full-time or part-time while in the U.S.
  • You can freely travel in and out of the U.S. as long as your R-1 visa status is valid and your visa stamp is unexpired.
  • You are eligible to apply for a green card after you have been on an R-1 visa for two years.

The following is a list of some of the rights you will receive with the R-1 visa:

  • You may only receive payment from the religious organization through which you received your R-1 visa classification.
  • If you wish to change employers on your R-1 visa, the new organization who wants to employ you will have to file a new Form I-129, along with all the supporting documents, and have it approved.
  • Your dependents, such as your spouse and children, may not work while they are in the U.S.

Contact our office today to speak with a lawyer to learn more about your options and to begin the visa application process.

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Q: Can I apply for a green card through my R-1 visa status?

A: Yes. If you have an R-1 visa, you are eligible to apply for a green card after you have been on your visa for two years. Religious workers can seek to become permanent residents of the U.S. using the EB-4 ‘Special Immigrant: religious worker’ category. The EB-4 visa allows religious workers to immigrate to the U.S. as a permanent resident or to adjust status from within the U.S. to permanent resident status for the purpose of full-time, compensated religious work.

The requirements for the EB-4 category are almost identical to those of the R-1 visa category. However, there is the additional requirement that the intending immigrant must have two years of full-time religious work immediately prior to the filing. The intending immigrant may be self-petitioning or there may be religious non-profit organization petitioning on the immigrant’s behalf.

There is no annual cap for religious workers who fall under the ‘minister’ category. There is a 5,000 annual cap on all other religious workers in the EB-4 category, however. Religious workers on an EB-4 visa must wait for their I-360 application to be approved before filing for adjustment of status if they are already in the U.S. A labor certification process is not required for EB-4 religious workers. Although, a work offer is required in order to obtain the visa.

Contact our office today to speak with a lawyer to learn more about your options and to begin the visa application process.

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Q: Can my family join me in the U.S. while I am on an R-1 visa?

A: Yes, your spouse and any unmarried children under the age of 21 may join you in the U.S. while you are on an R-1 visa, but they must apply for an R-2 visa. This visa allows them to come to the U.S. and stay with you, but they are not citizens and do not receive a social security number (and thus cannot work). However, they may obtain a driver's license, pursue an education, and open a bank account. Each dependent must have their own R-2 visa.

The length of their stay is tied to your own. As long as your visa remains valid and your family fits the criteria above, they are allowed to stay in the country with you. This time frame includes any extensions that you may receive while on your R-1 visa.

An R-2 visa allows the holder to travel in and out of the country at will, apply for permanent residency via a green card, and to enroll in full-time classes.

To apply for an R-2 visa for your family, at a minimum you will need:

  • Proof that you support your family financially.
  • Documents proving your relationship to your spouse or child, such as a marriage certificate and a birth certificate.
  • Additional proof of your marriage, wedding pictures are acceptable.
  • A good quality copy of your dependents’ passports (all pages).

Contact our office today to speak with a lawyer to learn more about your options and to begin the visa application process.

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Q: What is considered a religious denomination and a religious occupation?

A: In order to qualify for an R-1 visa, you must be a member of a religious denomination and be coming to the U.S. to work in a religious occupation.

The definition for a religious denomination is found in 8 C.F.R. §204.5(m)(5) and 214.2(r)(3):

  • A group of people that are bound by a type of ecclesiastical governing body or administrative body AND its members agree upon at least one of the criteria below:
    • A commonly held set of shared beliefs or rules.
    • A commonly held system of worship.
    • A commonly held set of discipline and doctrine.
    • An agreed upon set of ceremonies and services.
    • An agreed upon location for services, worship, and congregations.
    • Another comparable indication of a religious denomination similar to what has been mentioned above.

Although the above is required, an interdenominational religious organization may also be treated as a religious denomination if it is tax-exempt. You must have also been a member of this denomination for the period of at least two years before the application date.

A religious occupation means that you should be habitually engaged in an activity that relates to a traditional religious function. The activity must embody the tenets of the religion and have religious significance.

Examples of a religious occupation which allow for R-1 visa status include:

  • Liturgical workers
  • Religious instructors and cantors
  • Catechists
  • Workers in religious hospitals
  • Missionaries
  • Religious translators
  • Religious broadcasters

Occupations that are not considered religious occupations, even though they work in the religious organization, for an R-1 visa include:

  • Janitors
  • Maintenance workers
  • Clerks
  • Fund raisers
  • Solicitors of donations
  • Any similar occupations

Contact our office today to speak with a lawyer to learn more about your options and to begin the visa application process.

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Q: How long does the R-1 visa application process take and can I expedite the process?

A: Unfortunately the time that it takes for your R-1 visa petition to be processed varies widely based on many factors, but the typical amount of time is usually between 2 and 4 months. Longer waits are certainly possible.

Efforts have been made by USCIS to reduce the processing times in general. However, unlike typical non-immigrant worker visas, R-1 visas often require on-site inspections by the U.S. Government as well as other complications that hinder this process.

Yes, it is possible to expedite this process via Form I-907, Request for Premium Processing Service. This service is only available in the case where USCIS has already done an on-site inspection of the area where you will be working and approved it. If this is the case, it is helpful to submit this prior approval as well, which is Form I-797. Form I-907 can be submitted online via the USCIS website.

The filing fee for this service is $1,225, which is in addition to any other filing fees. Premium processing service guarantees that processing of the petition will occur within 15 calendar days from successful submittal. If USCIS cannot meet this deadline, your fee will be refunded and the case will continue being processed in an expedited manner.

Contact our office today to speak with a lawyer to learn more about your options and to begin the visa application process.

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Q: What is a “minister” for R-1 visa purposes and how do I prove that I am a minister?

A: A new rule in 2008 added a new definition of “minister” for R-1 visa purposes. Under the rule, a minister is “an individual authorized by a religious denomination, and fully trained according to the denomination’s standards, to conduct religious worship and to perform other duties as usually performed by authorized members of the clergy of that denomination.”

While, lay preachers are not included in this definition of a minister, the term “minister” does also includes the following titles:

  • Priests
  • Rabbis
  • Salaried Buddhist monks
  • Commissioned officer of the Salvation Army
  • Practitioners and nurses of the Christian Science Church
  • Ordained deacons

If you will be working as a minister in the U.S. while on your R-1 visa, you will need to provide certain supporting documentation along with your application. This includes the following:

  • A copy of your certificate of ordination or similar documents
  • Documents showing acceptance of your qualification as a minister in the religious denomination, as well as evidence that you completed any course of prescribed theological education at an accredited theological institution normally required or recognized by that religious denomination.
    • Include transcripts, curriculum, and documentation that establishes that the theological institution is accredited by the denomination
  • If the denomination does not require a prescribed theological education, provide:
    • The religious denomination’s requirements for ordination to minister;
    • A list of duties performed by virtue of ordination;
    • The denomination’s levels of ordination, if any; and
    • Evidence of the religious worker’s completion of the denomination’s requirements for ordination

Contact our office today to speak with a lawyer to learn more about your options and to begin the visa application process.

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Q: Is an inspection of the religious organization’s worksite required for an R-1 visa?

A: USCIS has made it clear that pre-approval on-site inspections are still being conducted on any religious organization that has not already completed a site inspection satisfactorily. And, even after a satisfactory pre-approval site inspection, a post-adjudication site inspection may also be conducted. USCIS may choose to conduct a pre- or post-adjudication site inspection in any case where derogatory information point to fraud or in case where the record shows substantial changes in the petitioning organization. On-site inspections cannot be requested in advance of or subsequent to an R-1 petition submittal to USCIS.

Site inspections are conducted at the petitioner’s location. If there are multiple locations of the petitioner, it is possible that each site will receive an inspection. After an inspection, USCIS does not release the compliance review report. The petitioning organization will only receive an approval or denial notice. There is no set time frame for how long each approved on-site inspection is valid for.

On-site visits are normally completed within 90 days of referral to the Center Fraud Detection Operation from an adjudicator after review of the R-1 visa petition. However, expedited processing may be requested in certain circumstances. During the visit, USCIS may tour the facilities, interview officials of the organization, and review organization records relating to its compliance with immigration laws and regulations.

Contact our office today to speak with a lawyer to learn more about your options and to begin the visa application process.

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