R-1 Visas: Temporary Religious Workers

R-1 Visas: Temporary Religious Workers

R-1 visas are temporary non-immigrant, work visas for foreign nationals coming to the United States to be employed as religious workers. Ministers, priests, educators, translators, missionaries, and other religious workers may qualify for this type of visa.

R-1 Visa Qualifications

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has several requirements that foreign nationals and employers must meet to be eligible for an R-1 visa. Qualifications for individuals include the following:

  • Membership of a legitimate religious denomination with a bona fide non-profit religious organization in the U.S. for at least two years.
  • A job offer to work in the U.S. for an affiliate of that same religious organization for at least 20 hours per week.
  • Be coming solely as a clergy member or to perform a religious occupation.

Organizations must fall into one of the following three categories to be eligible to file petitions for R-1 visas:

  • A non-profit religious organization in the U.S.;
  • A religious organization authorized as a group tax exemption holder; or
  • A non-profit religious organization affiliated with a religious denomination in the U.S.

How to Apply for an R-1 Visa

There are three parts to the R-1 visa application process: filing the petition, applying for a non-immigrant visa, and interviewing with the U.S. embassy or consulate.

1. File the Petition

To start the process, religious employers must fill out Form I-129: Petition for a Non-Immigrant Worker. This filing fee is $460, which must be paid by the employer, and requires proof of tax exemption.

In most cases, after receiving the petition, USCIS will conduct an on-site visit to confirm the relationship between the employer and religious denomination.

After the employer receives approval via Form I-797: Notice of Action, the foreign national can begin the visa application process.

2. Complete the Non-Immigrant Visa Application

All non-immigrant visa applicants must fill out Form DS-160: Non-Immigrant Visa Application. This form includes several questions regarding their background as well as the purpose of their visit to the U.S.

Submitting Form DS-160 costs $190. Additional fees may apply depending on the relationship between the U.S. and the foreign national’s home country.

3. Interview with the U.S. Embassy or Consulate

Foreign nationals between the ages of 14 and 79 who apply for a non-immigrant visa must interview with an official at the U.S. embassy or consulate in their home country or country of residence. Schedule this interview as soon as possible to avoid long wait times.

Change of Status to R-1 – Temporary Religious Workers

If the foreign national is already in the United States in another valid non-immigrant status, he or she may apply to change status to R-1 Temporary Religious Worker, thereby avoiding the consular/embassy process.

How Does the U.S. Government Define Religion?

USCIS defines a religious denomination as a group of people governed by a type of ecclesiastical administrative body. Members of a religious denomination must also agree on at least one of the following criteria:

  • A recognized statement of faith or shared beliefs.
  • A commonly held system of worship
  • A commonly held doctrine and code of discipline
  • Established places of worship and congregation
  • An agreed upon set of ceremonies and services
  • Another comparable indication of a religious denomination

Religious entities without a central governing or ecclesiastical administrative body may instead submit a description of their internal organizational structure to satisfy these requirements.

What Are Religious Occupations?

Religious occupations include positions with duties that primarily relate to a traditional religious function: members of the clergy and other religious workers.

Eligible religious occupations include but are not limited to the following:

  • Clergy: Ministers, priests, rabbis, salaried Buddhist monks, ordained deacons, etc.
  • Other religious workers: Liturgical workers, instructors, counselors, missionaries, translators, broadcasters, cantors, etc.

USCIS does not consider workers with primarily administrative such as Janitors, Fundraisers, Clerical employees, Maintenance workers, or support positions to fall under the category of religious occupations. Volunteers are also not eligible for R-1 visas.

Family of R-1 Visa Holders

An R-1 religious worker’s spouse and unmarried children under the age of 21 may be eligible for R-2 classification. An R-2 dependent is not authorized to work based on this visa classification.

How Long Does It Take to Process an R-1 Visa?

The time it takes to process an R-1 visa varies widely from case to case. If USCIS has already conducted an on-site inspection of the religious employer, the employer may qualify for premium processing, which significantly speeds up the process. If the religious employer is not eligible for premium processing, the process can take about 8 or 9 months (6 months for USCIS to respond to the petition and 2 to 3 months for the visa to process).

How Long Does an R-1 Visa Last?

R-1 visas are initially granted for up to 30 months. However, 1 30- month extension, for a total of 60 months (5 years), may be granted.

Can I Apply for a Green Card as an R-1 Visa Holder?

Yes. R-1 visa holders can seek to become lawful permanent residents of the U.S. through methods such as adjustment of status, family sponsorship, or employment-based immigration visas for religious workers (EB-4 visas). Religious Workers are eligible to apply for a green card after two years of R-1 visa status.

For more information on R-1 Religious workers, contact Cella & Associates, LLC, Attorneys At Law, and schedule a confidential in-person, Zoom, WhatsApp, or Telephonic consultation at (877)583-7080, www.CellaLaw.com.