Religious Worker (R-1)

The R-1 visa is for aliens traveling to the United States temporarily to work in a religious occupation at least part time (20 hours or more weekly). Examples of persons in religious occupations include, but are not limited to: liturgical workers, religious instructors, religious counselors, cantors, catechists, workers in religious hospitals or religious healthcare facilities, missionaries, religious translators, or religious broadcasters. This group does not include janitors, maintenance workers, clerks, fundraisers, or persons involved solely in the solicitation of donations. Religious study or training does not qualify as religious work in a religious occupation. A religious worker cannot file an R-1 petition on their own behalf, instead the religious organization or non-profit otherwise known as the ‘Petitioner’ must file the R-1 petition on the religious worker’s behalf. To be eligible to petition a religious worker for an R-1 visa, the U.S. employer must be a bona fide non-profit religious organization, which is exempt from taxation or a religious organization that has never sought such exemptions, but would otherwise be eligible for such status. The coverage of this category also extends to spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21 to principal R-1 aliens. Derivative dependents can join the R-1 principal alien in the United states by applying for the R-2 visa classification. R-2 aliens may not engage in employment under this visa classification, but may study in the United States.

What qualifies as a religious occupation?

Generally, an individual is employed in a religious occupation if 1) their occupational duties primarily relate to a traditional religious function 2) if their occupation is recognized as a religious occupation within the religious denomination and 3) if the duties of the religious occupation relate to, involve, and carry out beliefs and customs associated with the religious denomination.

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Religious Worker Requirements

The religious worker must receive a bona-fide job offer of a temporary nature from either 1) a non-profit organization in the United States 2) a religious organization authorization by a group tax exemption holder to use its group tax exemption or 3) non-profit religious organization affiliated with a religious denomination in the United States to work in a religious vocation or occupation. The religious worker must have been a member of the religious denomination for at least two years before filing of the petition evidencing their dedication to the denomination and practice of its traditions. In some cases, USCIS may conduct a pre-approval site inspection at the physical address where the religious worker will be employed or at the place of worship. A post adjudication inspection may also be conducted verifying the religious worker’s work hours, compensation, and duties. Site inspections are conducted as a fraud prevention mechanism and also in cases where the petitioner has undergone substantial changes since the filing of an R-1 petition.

What is a religious denomination?

CIS defines a religious denomination as a religious group or community of believers governed or administered under a common type of ecclesiastical government. A religious group or community of believers is characterized as a religious denomination if there is a common creed or statement of faith among members, common worship, common code of doctrine and discipline, common religious service and ceremonies, common places of worship or religious congregations, etc.

What constitutes denominational membership?

According to CIS 8 CFR 214.2(r)(3), denominational membership is premised on shared faith and worship practices, and not on formal affiliation. Denominational membership means membership during at least the two-year period immediately preceding the filing date of the petition, in the same type of religious denomination as the U.S. religious organization where the beneficiary will work.

Benefits of an R-1 Visa
  • Religious workers do not have to maintain foreign residence and show intent to return to their home country while applying for the R-1 visa;
  • Spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21 of ministers and religious workers can enter the United States in R-2 status and remain in R-2 status for as long as the principal R-1 alien remains in R-1 status. These dependents can also attend school while in R-2 status but may not be employed in the United States under the R-2 classification;
  • Religious workers can travel in and out of the U.S. freely, provided they have a valid visa;

If the religious worker lives and works abroad, the religious worker petition may be filed by an authorized official of the U.S. organization at an American Consulate overseas with jurisdiction over your place of permanent residence. A religious worker cannot file a petition on their own behalf. If visa exempt, the alien may apply at a port of entry. If the alien is residing in the United States lawfully, the religious organization may use USCIS Form I-129 to petition for a change of status, extension of stay, or change of employment for the religious worker. Exceptions exist; if the alien entered the United States on the visa waiver program, their stay may not be changed or extended.

Supporting Documents

The following is a list of some documents that should be included in the R-1 visa petition along with USCIS Form I-129 Petition for Non-Immigrant Worker and R Supplement. The list is not all inclusive and specific details pertaining to your application should be discussed with a licensed attorney in detail. Additional documents may be necessary depending on the specific case. The petition may be filed by an authorized official of the U.S. organization.

The list includes but is not limited to the following items:

Biographical Documents of Beneficiary:

  • Copy of Passport I.D. Page;
  • Copy of U.S. Visa I.D. Page (if applicable);
  • Copy of I-94 Arrival/Departure Record (if applicable);
  • Copies of any employment authorization cards (if applicable);
  • Original I-20’s or DS-2019’s for F1, M1, and J1 visa holders (if applicable):
  • Beneficiary’s Resume/CV;

Petitioner Documentation:

Petitioner’s 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 establishing that the organization is a tax-exempt organization.
  • If the 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:
    1. A currently valid determination letter from the IRS;
    2. Documentation that establishes the religious nature and purpose of the organization;
    3. Organizational literature;
  • Evidence showing that the religious organization or any affiliate which will engage the alien's services is a bona fide nonprofit, religious organization in the U.S. and is exempt from taxation in accordance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986;
  • If the bona fide organization affiliated with the religious denominated holds tax-exempt status under section 501(c)(3) the petitioner must provide a valid determination letter from IRS confirming the tax exempt status, documentation of the religious nature and purpose of the organization, organizational literature describing the purpose and nature of the organization’s activities, religious denomination certification confirming the relationship between the petitioner and religious denomination;
  • Petitioner’s not classified as religious organizations by the IRS, can establish affiliation by completing the Religious Denomination Certification with USCIS Form I-129 Petition for Non-Immigrant Worker;

Materials on the Petitioner’s Organization:

  • Religious organization’s incorporation information;
  • Religious organization’s constitution, faith statement, and membership roll showing the religious nature and purpose of the organization;
  • Religious Organization’s website printouts; religious literature from the organization;
  • Religious organization’s job descriptions for its employee positions;
  • Evidence of salaried or non-salaried compensation, which may include:
    1. Past evidence of compensation for similar positions
    2. Budgets showing monies set aside for salaries, leases, etc.
    3. Evidence that room and board will be provided to the religious worker
    4. Petitioner’s Bank statements and balance sheets proving Petitioner’s ability to compensate the beneficiary
    5. If IRS documentation, such as IRS Form W-2 or certified tax returns is available, it must be provided
    6. If IRS documentation is not available, an explanation for its absence must be provided, along with comparable, verifiable documentation

Verifiable Salaried or Non-Salaried Compensation

  • Letter of employment and report from the petitioner showing what compensation the beneficiary will receive;

Qualifications and Membership in a Religious Denomination

  • Evidence of membership of the beneficiary in a religious denomination having a bona fide non-profit religious organization in the United States for at least two years immediately preceding the filing of the petition;
  • A written statement from an authorized official of the religious organization that will be employing the alien establishing that the alien has been a member of the denomination for the required two years and describing the proposed position including the name and location where the alien will be employed;
  • Evidence to establish that the beneficiary is qualified to perform the duties of the offered position: degrees and transcripts with translation, licenses, letters of experience, etc.
  • If the beneficiary is a minister, provide:
    1. Copies of the beneficiary’s certificate of ordination or similar documents;
    2. Documents reflecting acceptance of the beneficiary’s qualifications as a minister as well as evidence of any completed coursework or theological education, including transcripts, curriculum, and documentation that establishes the theological institution is accredited;
    3. If a prescribed theological education is not required, provide documentation for the requirements of the ordination, duties allowed to be performed by virtue of ordination, the organization’s levels of ordination, and beneficiary’s completion of the denomination’s requirements for ordination
Duration of Stay

The R-1 visa is granted for an initial period of 30 months. R-1 aliens can request extensions of stay for 30 additional months. A religious worker’s total period of stay in the United states cannot exceed five years (or 60 months). In order to apply for an extension of stay, the alien must live outside of the United States for at least a year. Exceptions apply to seasonal, intermittent, and commuter workers.

Entry into the U.S.

A visa does not guarantee entry into the United States. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has the authority to deny admission at the port of entry to any applicant who is inadmissible under INA, even if the applicant has a visa. Also, the CBP, not the consular officer, determines the period for which the bearer of a temporary work visa is authorized to remain in the United States. At the port of entry, CBP officials issue Form I-94, Record of Arrival-Departure, which notes the length of stay permitted. The decision to grant or deny a request for extension of stay, however, is made solely by the USCIS. Applicants should be aware of these points.

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