Are you a foreign priest, rabbi, minister or employee of a religious organization?
Have you been a member for at least two years of a non-profit religious organization with established facilities in the United States?
Do you wish to perform your duties as a religious worker on a temporary basis in the U.S.?
If your answer to the questions above is “Yes,” then you may be able to enter the U.S. on an R visa! If you are a religious worker and would like to enter the United States temporarily to work in a religious capacity, then the R visa may allow you to do so.
What do I need to show to qualify as a religious worker?
To qualify for an R visa, requirements are must be able to show that:
- You are a member of a U.S.-based non-profit organization connected to your religion;
- That you have been a member of that organization for at least two (2) years when you apply for the R visa and;
- That you intend to work as a minister of your religion, or other religious occupation or vocation in that non-profit religious organization.
What documents are requirement for R visa?
The documents required for an R visa are to be provided by both the individual R visa applicant and the religious organization that he or she is associated with.
Requirements and Documents to be shown by the applicant’s religious organization:
- Proof of tax-exempt status. For example, an IRS 501(c)(3) letter;
- Proof that the R visa applicant will be paid. For example, papers showing a budget set aside for the religious worker’s salary and/or that room and board to be provided.
Documents to be shown by the religious worker:
- Proof of membership for two (2) years in a U.S.-based non-profit religious organization.
- If the religious worker will be working as a priest, rabbi or minister, provide:
- A copy of certificate of ordination;
- Documents showing acceptance of worker’s qualifications to work within that religious denomination;
- Proof of completion of courses of theological education required or recognized by that religious denomination. This may include transcripts, curriculum, and documentation that establish that the theological institution is accredited by the denomination;
- If the denominations do not require a prescribed theological education, provide:
- Requirements for ordination to minister in the applicant’s religious denomination;
- 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.
How long can I stay in the U.S. on an R visa?
Usually, an R visa holder can stay in the U.S. for up to 30 months. If an extension is filed, it may be granted for up to another 30 months. The total stay in the U.S. for an R visa holder cannot be more than five (5) years.
Can I bring my family along with me to the U.S. on an R visa?
Yes. An R visa holder’s spouse and unmarried children under twenty-one (21) years of age may be issued religious worker visas as well. The family members will need to show that they will be supported financially while they are in the U.S. The family members may not work in the U.S., but they may attend school.
About R-1 religious worker visa and FAQs
Q. What is R-1 religious worker visa?
A. The R-1 religious worker visa is a nonimmigrant visa which allows foreign nationals in religious occupations to enter into the U.S. and perform the duties of a religious worker.
Q. Who is eligible for R-1 visa?
A. You must be a foreign national who, for at least the two years immediately preceding the time of application for admission, have been a member of a religious denomination having a bona fide nonprofit religious organization in the U.S.
Q. How can I qualify as religious worker for R-1 visa?
A. To qualify for R-1 visa, you must be one of the following:
- Minister of religion
- Working in a professional capacity, either in a religious vocation or occupation
- Other religious worker working in a religious occupation or in a religious vocation
Q. What privileges do I enjoy on R-1 visa?
A.On R-1 visa, you may:
- Engage in full time study in the U.S.
- Travel freely in and out of the U.S.
- Receive payment for services performed
- Apply for Green Card
- Apply for R-2 dependent visa for your spouse and unmarried children below 21 years
Q. What are the limitations of R-1 visa?
A. On R-1 visa, you may:
- Receive payment only from the religious organization through which the status was obtained
- Take your dependents with you to the U.S. but they may not work
Q. How long can I stay in the U.S. on R-1 religious worker visa?
A. You may stay in the U.S. on R-1 religious worker visa along with your spouse, and unmarried children under 21 years of age for an initial period not exceeding three years.
Q. Can I extend my stay on R-1 visa?
A. Yes, you may use Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, to apply for extension of stay. Extension may be authorized for a period of up to two years. Your total period of stay may not exceed five years.
Q. Can I study on R-1 religious worker visa?
A. Yes, you may engage in full time study on R-1 visa.
Q. Can I change employers on R-1 religious worker visa?
A. Yes, you may change employers on R-1 visa. The new organization seeking to employ you must file a new Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant worker, with the USCIS and have it approved.
Q. Are there any travel restrictions on R-1 religious workers visa?
A. No, there are no travel restrictions on R-1 religious workers visa. You may travel freely in and out of the U.S. during the validity of your visa.
Q. What are the documents required for R-1 visa?
A. Required documents are:
- Filled in Form I-129 nonimmigrant visa application with supporting documents
- Proof that you are working as a minister of religion, or in a religious vocation or occupation, for a bona-fide, non-profit religious organization or denomination that is exempt from taxation
- Proof that you have been a member of the religious organization for at least two years prior to your application
- A contract from the employer in the U.S proof, such as bank statements, that the employer is able to support the applicant above the poverty line
- Recommendation letters to further support your case
- IRS-supplied proof of the tax-exempt status of the religious organization in the U.S.
- Evidence that you are qualified for the work designated in the U.S.
- Documents showing arrangements for financial support
Q. Can I apply for Green Card while on R-1 status?
A. Yes, you may apply for Green Card. To adjust status you must file:
- Form I-360 application for special immigrant and obtain approval
- Form I-485 application for adjustment of status when priority date for Form I-360 is current
Q. What type of visa will my dependents require?
A. You may apply for R-2 visa for your spouse and unmarried children below 21 years.
Q. Can my dependents study on R-2 visa?
A. Yes, your dependents may engage in full time study in the U.S.
Q. Can my dependents work on R-2 visa?
A. No, your dependents may not work on R-2 visa.
An R visa allows a foreign religious worker to enter into the U.S. temporarily to perform religious duties. Documents of proof must be provided by both the individual religious worker, as well as the religious organization that they are associated with. Spouses and children of R visa holders may enter the U.S. along with the R visa holder, but must provide proof that they will be supported financially while in the country. Religious workers generally immigrate to the United States after they enter on an R visa. Please note, If you are accused of violating your visa status, you should need an experienced immigration attorney to assist you in deportation hearings.
Please note: In order for a religious worker to obtain a green card, the religious organization should demonstrate a permanent need for the services of the religious worker. Once a permanent need is demonstrated, the sponsoring entity will have to file Form I-360, commonly referred to as the Permanent Residence petition, for the religious worker with supporting documents. The family members of the religious worker, including spouse and children under 21, can qualify for permanent residence with the religious worker. Permanent residence through being a needed religious worker is one of the easiest ways of obtaining a green card in the United States.