R-1 Visas for Religious Workers

R-1 visas allow foreign nationals who work in religious vocations or occupations abroad to come to the U.S. on a temporary basis as religious workers. Qualifying religious organizations that may sponsor R-1 workers include:

  • 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 which is affiliated with a religious denomination in the United States.

An R-1 visa holder must show that they 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 before the R-1 petition is filed with USCIS. In order to qualify for an R-1, one should be offered a minister position, or another religious vocation or occupation. Ministers are defined as individuals who are duly authorized by the religious denomination to which they belong, and are fully trained according to the denomination’s standards to conduct religious worship and other duties usually performed by the clergy.

Religious occupations that qualify for an R-1 visa must:

  • Have duties that 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.

Occupations that are primarily supporting the religious organization in terms of administration, facilities, or fundraising do not qualify. In addition, religious training or studies do not count as the basis for an R-1 visa and may be more appropriate to another visa classification such as F-1, J-1, H-3, or Q-1.

R-1 status may be requested for an initial period of up to 30 months and may be extended to a maximum period of stay of 60 months. Petitions must be filed with USCIS and approved before a Religious Worker may apply for a visa and enter the U.S.

To speak with an immigration attorney about R-1 visas for religious workers, contact Grossman Young & Hammond.

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