R-1 Visa for Religious Workers

Immigration lawyers in our Boston office specialize in R-1 visa for religious workers

R-1 visa is a non-immigrant visa allowing foreign nationals to come to the United States temporarily for employment by a non-profit religious organization in the U.S. as a minister, monk, priest, rabbi, imam, or other religious worker. Based in downtown Boston, lawyers specialize in immigration law and have represented or consulted with a wide variety of religious faiths.

What are the Requirements for a R-1 Visa?

In order to qualify for a R-1 visa, you must meet certain requirements, such as:

  • Be employed at least part-time, with an average of at least 20 hours per week
  • Be a member of a religious denomination having a bona fide non-profit, tax-exempt religious organization in the United States for at least 2 years immediately preceding the time of application
  • Be coming to the U.S. solely as a minister or to perform a religious occupation
  • Have been a member of your denomination during at least the two-year period immediately before filing your R-1 visa petition
  • Your job duties must relate mainly to carrying out the organization’s religious creed and be recognized as a religious occupation within your denomination

What Type of Documentation Will You Need to Provide?

When applying for an R-1 visa, you will need to provide evidence of your qualification along with your application. The evidence you are required to provide will depend on whether you will be paid by the religious employer or whether you will support yourself while in the U.S. Some of the supporting documents you may need to provide include:

  • Proof of the religious organization’s tax-exempt status
  • Proof of the religious organization’s established program for missionary work
  • Evidence of your acceptance into the program
  • Evidence of your required duties and responsibilities
  • Evidence showing how the religious organization will pay you or copies of your bank records, depending on who will be supporting you
  • Copy of any certificate of ordination or required education by your denomination

What are the Recognized Religious Denominations?

The definition of a “religious denomination” for R-1 visa purposes is:

  • 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.

What is Considered a Religious Occupation?

To qualify for a R-1 visa, you must be working in the U.S. as a minister or in a religious occupation. To be considered a religious occupation, it must be one where you will be habitually working on an activity with religious significance that relates to a traditional religious function that embodies the tenets of the religion. Some examples of religious occupations include catechists, missionaries, religious instructors, cantors, liturgical workers, religious hospital workers, and religious translators and broadcasters. Those who work in religious organizations but do not serve a religious function, such as clerks, janitors, and fundraisers, will not be granted R-1 visas.

Who are Considered Ministers and What Evidence is Required?

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.” This definition includes priests, rabbis, ordained deacons, and salaried Buddhist monks. But lay preachers are not considered “ministers” for R-1 visa purposes.

You will need to provide certain evidence along with your R-1 visa application if you will be working in the U.S. as a minister, including a copy of your certificate of ordination and any required education for your denomination.

What is the Length of Stay Allowed on a R-1 Visa?

The R-1 visa is normally granted for an initial period of up to 30 months. Extensions are sometimes granted for a period of up to an additional 30 months. The total period of stay in the U.S. on a R-1 visa may not exceed 60 months, or 5 years, unless you have lived abroad and been physically outside the United States for the entire previous year. However, if your job in the U.S. was only seasonal or intermittent, was for six months or less each year, or if you lived abroad and commuted to your employment in the U.S., you may be allowed an additional extension.

Can Your Spouse and Children Accompany You to the U.S.?

It is possible for your spouse and unmarried children under the age of 21 to come with you to the U.S. while you are on your R-1 visa status. They will need to apply for a R-2 visa. While on a R-2 visa, your dependents are not eligible to work in the U.S. but can attend school. Their R-2 visa status will terminate when your R-1 visa status ends.

Common Problems with a R-1 Visa Petition

You have the burden of proof to show that your education and position qualifies for a R-1 visa. Religious study or training for religious work will not be considered a religious occupation. The petitioning religious organization must be organized as a 501(3)(c) non-profit entity.With financial documentation, the employer must prove that it has the ability to pay the religious workers salary. Many times, USCIS will respond to your petition with a Request for Evidence (RFE), requiring you to explain parts of your petition in more detail or provide additional documentation. USCIS requires a response to the RFE in a timely manner or your petition will be denied.

How Our Immigration Lawyers Can Help Your R-1 Visa Case

If you are filing a R-1 visa petition, we can help. At the Law Offices of Joshua Goldstein, our immigration lawyers are highly experienced and have successfully prepared and obtained approval for numerous R-1 visa petitions. We will guide you through this complex immigration process and help find and resolve any issues that may only be apparent to an experienced immigration lawyer.

Call us today at (617) 722-0005. Schedule a consultation to learn more about the R-1 visa and how our immigration lawyers can help you.