Religious Worker (R-1 Visa)

The Religious Worker (R) visa is for persons seeking to enter the United States (U.S.) to work in a religious capacity on a temporary basis, under provisions of U.S. law, specifically the Immigration and Nationality Act.

Qualifying as a Religious Worker

Religious workers include persons authorized, by a recognized employing entity, to conduct religious worship and perform other duties usually performed by authorized members of the clergy of that religion, and workers engaging in a religious vocation or occupation.

  • The applicant must be a member of a religious denomination having a bona fide nonprofit religious organization in the U.S.;
  • The religious denomination and its affiliate, if applicable, are either exempt from taxation or qualifies for tax-exempt status; and
  • The applicant has been a member of the denomination for two years immediately preceding applying for religious worker status. The applicant is planning to work as a minister of that denomination, or in a religious occupation or vocation for a bona fide, non-profit religious organization (or a tax-exempt affiliate of such an organization).There is no requirement that individuals applying for “R” visas have a residence abroad that they have no intention of abandoning. However, they must intend to depart the U.S. at the end of their lawful status, absent specific indications or evidence to the contrary. The applicant has resided and been physically present outside the U.S. for the immediate prior year, if he or she has previously spent five years in this category.

Petitions

The applicant’s prospective employer must file Form I-129, Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker, with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). For more detailed information regarding the filing of Form I-129, as well as requirements, please refer to the USCIS R-1 Temporary Nonimmigrant Religious Worker webpage.

Important Note: It is very important for prospective employers to file the petition as soon as possible (but not more than 6 months before the proposed employment will begin) to provide adequate time for petition and subsequent visa processing.

The petition, Form I-129, must be approved by DHS/USCIS before the prospective religious worker can apply for a visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate abroad. When the petition is approved, the employer or agent is sent a Notice of Action, Form I-797, which serves as the petition approval notification. Petition approval is verified through the Department of State’s Petition Information Management Service (PIMS) at the visa applicant’s interview. Visa applicants must bring the approved I-129 petition receipt number to the interview, so that petition approval can be verified. It should be noted that the approval of a petition shall not guarantee visa issuance to an applicant found to be ineligible under U.S. immigration law.

Family Members

A nonimmigrant religious worker’s spouse and unmarried children under 21 years of age may be issued a religious worker visa. They may study, but may not accept employment in the U.S. Therefore, evidence of their financial support while in the U.S. will be necessary at the visa interview.