R-1 Religious Workers Visa

R-1 Visa A foreign national coming to the United States temporarily to be employed as a minister or in another religious vocation or occupation at least part time (average of at least 20 hours per week) by:

  • A non-profit religious organization in the United States;
  • A religious organization that is authorized by a group tax exemption holder to use its group tax exemption; or
  • A non-profit religious organization that is affiliated with a religious denomination in the United States.

Is considered a Religious Worker and can obtain an R-1 visa.

This visa program is intended for religious workers whose lives are dedicated to religious practices and functions, as distinguished from secular members of the religion.

To qualify, the foreign national must have been a member of a religious denomination having a bona fide non-profit religious organization in the United States for at least two years immediately before the filing of the petition.

Religious occupations are defined as occupations whose duties must:

  • Primarily relate to a traditional religious function;
  • Be recognized as a religious occupation within the denomination; and
  • Be primarily related to, and clearly involve, inculcating or carrying out the religious creed and beliefs of the denomination.

Religious occupations do not include primarily administrative or support positions such as janitors, maintenance workers, clerical employees, or fund-raisers or similar positions solely involved in soliciting donations. Limited administrative duties that are only incidental to religious functions are permissible.

Religious study or training for religious work does not constitute a religious occupation, but a religious worker may pursue study or training incidental to R-1 status.

Ministers are defined as individuals who are duly authorized by the religious denomination to which they belong, and who are fully trained according to the denomination’s standards to conduct religious worship and other duties usually performed by the clergy. The regulations do not define a uniform type of training for religious denominations. When signing the petition, the petitioner must attest that the beneficiary is qualified to perform the proposed duties of the religious occupation to be performed in the United States.

The definition of denominational membership is premised on a 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. (See 8 CFR 214.2(r)(3) emphasis added).

The term “religious denomination” applies to a religious group or community of believers governed or administered under a common type of ecclesiastical government. A religious group or community of believers may demonstrate that they are a religious denomination by showing one or more of the following:

  • A recognized common creed or statement of faith shared among the denomination’s members;
  • A common form of worship;
  • A common formal code of doctrine and discipline;
  • Common religious services and ceremonies;
  • Common established places of religious worship or religious congregations; or
  • Comparable evidence of a bona fide religious denomination.

USCIS acknowledges that some denominations lack an ecclesiastical government or central governing body. The religious entity may seek to satisfy the religious denomination requirement by submitting a description of its own internal governing or organizational structure.

Under the regulations at 8 CFR 214.2(r)(16), USCIS may conduct a pre-approval inspection in any case. If USCIS decides to conduct a pre-approval inspection, satisfactory completion of the inspection will be a condition for approval of any petition.

A physical address where constituents generally congregate to worship must be provided in order for USCIS to conduct a pre-approval site inspection, even if that address is not the same as the mailing address. During a site inspection, USCIS must verify that the place of worship/congregation actually exists.

In addition, a post-adjudication inspection may be completed on the beneficiary’s work location to verify the beneficiary’s work hours, compensation and duties. A post-adjudication inspection may also be conducted in cases of suspected fraud or where the petitioning entity has undergone substantial changes since its last filing. USCIS closely monitors the site visit program to ensure that it does not cause substantial delays in the adjudication process.

USCIS may grant R-1 status for an initial period of admission for up to 30 months. Subsequent extensions may be granted for up to an additional 30 months. The religious worker’s total period of stay in the United States in R-1 classification cannot exceed five years (60 months). USCIS counts only time spent physically in the United States in valid R-1 status toward the maximum period of stay.

Certain family members of religious workers may also accompany the R-1 visa holder as dependents. An R-1 visa holder may be accompanied or followed by spouses and unmarried children who are under 21 years of age.  Spouses of L-1 visa holders cannot apply for work authorization.