The 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.

Requirements: 

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

Types of Documentation Needed to Apply: 

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

Recognized Religious Denominations:

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 Evidence 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.

Length of Stay: 

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.

Accompanying Spouse/Children: 

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.

Should you have any questions about the R-1 visa for religious workers, contact us at 718-539-1100 or info@jckimlaw.com.