R-1: Religious Workers

At the Law Office of Matthew I. Hirsch, our firm has been honored to help religious organizations and religious workers to achieve their long- and short-term immigration goals. The R-1 visa category is a non-immigrant (i.e. temporary) visa category for individuals coming to the U.S. to engage in religious work. The R-1 is available to ordained clergy, i.e. priests, ministers, rabbis, pastors and others, and for those working in religious professions or vocations.

To qualify, the foreign national must be sponsored by a bona fide, non-profit U.S. religious organization and he/she must have been a member of that religious denomination for at least two (2) years immediately preceding the filing of the petition. Additionally, the offer of religious employment must be more than nominal; i.e. it must include a minimum of 20 working hours per week.

R-1 status is available for the following individuals:

  • Ministers: a Minister is a person who is ordained or who has received authorization from a recognized religious denomination to perform duties regularly and normally performed by clergy. This authorization must be documented by evidence such as a certificate of ordination, conferral letters, etc.
  • Persons working in Religious Occupations: these are aliens coming to the U.S. to work in professional positions which involve the particular creed or beliefs of the religions and are linked to a traditional religious function. Examples include religious educators, workers in religious hospitals, cantors and liturgical musicians, religious librarians and others.
  • Persons working in Religious Vocations: these are individuals who have made a formal lifetime commitment through vows, investitures, ceremonies or other indicia of a religious way of life. This category includes nuns and monks and others engaged in similar religious activities.

The R-1 visa is employer-sponsored and employer-specific and requires the filing of a Petition with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (CIS, formerly INS). The Petition and its supplements must be accompanied by substantial evidence to establish that the organization and the individual meet the applicable criteria for R-1 status.

Prior to approving an R-1 visa petition, USCIS will conduct an unannounced site visit in order to ensure that the organization sponsoring the R-1 visa is a functioning religious organization. During this site visit, USCIS officers will usually request documentation such as membership rolls, financial reports, budgets, payroll records, and evidence of tax-exempt status.

Once a Petition is approved, the individual can apply for the R-1 visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate in his/her country of residence. Spouses and children under the age of 21 may be issued R-2 visas. The visa is usually issued for 3 years and may be extended for an additional 2 years, for a maximum period of 5 years. The applicant will not be granted additional extensions unless they have spent a complete year outside of the U.S.

In some cases, persons who are in the U.S. in R-1 status may be eligible to apply for permanent residence (green cards) as Special Immigrant Religious Workers within the Fourth Family-based Preference Category.

For more information on temporary visas and green cards for religious ministers and workers, please contact us.