Temporary Visa for Religious Workers: the R-1 Visa
R-1 non-immigrant visas provide for temporary admission of religious workers to be employed by a qualified non-profit religious organization in the United States (or an organization which is affiliated with the religious denomination in the United States) to work as a minister or in a religious vocation or occupation.
Primary Requirements and Considerations for the R-1 Visa
- The foreign national must 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 immediately before the filing of the petition.
- Religious denomination is defined as a group or community of believers that is governed or administered under a common type of ecclesiastical government and includes one or more of the following: (1) common form of worship; (2) common doctrine; (3) common services; (4) common established place of worship; or (5) comparable indicia.
- The foreign worker must be working in the United States as a Minister or as a Religious Worker. Both full-time and part-time positions (at least 20 hours/week) are permitted.
- Minister positions require that the foreign national (1) be fully authorized and trained in the religious denomination to conduct religious worship and perform other duties usually performed by clergy of the denomination; (2) not be a lay preacher or person not authorized to perform clergy duties; (3) perform activities rationally related to being a minister; and (4) work solely as a minister in the United States, which may include incidental administrative duties.
- If the religious worker will be working as a Minister, a certificate of ordination (or similar document) must be provided, as well as documents evidencing the religious worker’s qualifications as a minister in the religious denomination and evidence that he or she completed any course of prescribed theological education at an accredited theological institution normally required or recognized by that religious denomination.
- Religious Worker positions require that the foreign national be coming to the United States to perform a religious vocation or religious occupation in either a professional or non-professional capacity.
- Work as a Religious Worker in a Religious Occupation: the duties must (1) primarily relate to a traditional religious function and be recognized as a religious occupation with the denomination; (2) clearly involve inculcating or carrying out the religious creed and beliefs of the denomination; (3) not include positions that are primarily of an administrative or support nature, including janitors, maintenance workers, clerical employees, fundraisers, solicitors for donations, but may include incidental administrative duties to religious functions; and (4) not be solely for religious study or training for religious work, although a religious worker is not barred from such training or study. Examples of individuals in religious occupations include, but are not limited to, liturgical workers, religious instructors, religious counselors, cantors, catechists, workers in religious hospitals or religious health care facilities, missionaries, religious translators, or religious broadcasters.
- Work as a Religious Worker in a Religious Vocation: the duties must involve a form of lifetime commitment through vows, investitures, ceremonies, or similar indicia to a religious way of life. This includes nuns, monks, and religious brothers and sisters, who are distinguished from secular members of the denomination.
- The U.S. employer must file an attestation by an authorized official of the religious organization to confirm: (1) the employer is a bona fide non-profit religious organization of affiliate of one and is tax exempt; (2) the beneficiary has been a member of the denomination for at least 2 years and is otherwise qualified for the position; (3) the number of members of the religious organization; (4) the number of employees who work at the same location and a summary of their responsibilities; (5) the number of R-1 or Special Immigrant visa holders employed within the last 5 years; (6) the number of non-immigrant visa and immigrant visa applications filed in the last 5 years; (7) the title and detailed description of the R-1 position offered; (8) the salaried or non-salaried compensation associated with the position; (9) employment in R-1 status will be at least 20 hours per week; (10) the location of the employment; and (11) the foreign worker will not be engaged in secular employment.
- The religious organization must provide proof of tax-exempt status and also must prove how it will compensate the religious worker, including any salaried and non-salaried compensation. If the religious worker will be self-supporting as part of a qualifying program for temporary, uncompensated missionary work, the petition must include detailed evidence of said missionary program and the foreign national’s participation in it, as well as evidence of the foreign national’s ability to self-support.
- Non-denominational religious organizations may qualify as R-1 petitioners under certain circumstances. Where a common governing authority is lacking, the petitioner’s letter of support must carefully detail how the petitioner’s creed or beliefs relate to other churches. Even where there is no common governing association, in order to document the common creed, documentation of association with churches of similar creeds must be provided. Such documentation might include: (a) ministerial conferences or continuing education programs for clergy; (b) religious educator training conferences or programs; (c) retreats or spiritual development conferences for clergy, religious professionals and lay persons; (d) youth group exchanges or gatherings; and (e) administrative associations to pool resources for, e.g., health insurance, liability insurance, etc. among independent churches of similar creeds. Even if a church believes in the principle of nondenominational congregational government, it might have participated in these types of associations for support and sharing of resources. An inquiry as to whether a religious organization has participated in any of these types of relationships might help define and document the “denomination” of the nondenominational church.”
- If the denomination does not require a prescribed theological education, the petition must detail the religious denomination’s requirements for ordination to minister, a list of duties performed by virtue of ordination, the denomination’s level of ordination, and evidence of the foreign worker’s completion of any requirements for ordination.
- Foreign worker may work for more than one qualifying U.S. employer, as long as each employer files a separate R-1 visa petition.
- USCIS, through its Fraud Detection and National Security directorate, conducts on-site investigations of R-1 visa petitioners to determine if the petition is fraudulent or in technical violation of the regulations. Such site visits may result in some delays in the adjudication process.
R-1 Visa Application Process
An R-1 visa cannot be issued at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate abroad without prior approval of the R-1 visa petition by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Therefore, a prospective or existing U.S. employer must first file a non-immigrant worker petition with USCIS on behalf of the R-1 worker. A duplicate copy of the petition and all supporting documents must be submitted to avoid a delay in the issuance of the R-1 visa abroad.
Period of Stay for R-1 Visa Holders
R-1 visa holders are admitted for periods of up to 30 months. Subsequent extensions may be granted for up to an additional 30 months, for a total period of stay in the United States in R-1 classification of 5 years (60 months.) The 5-year maximum does not apply if the foreign worker did not reside continually in the United States, but employment was seasonal, intermittent, or less than six months per year. USCIS will count only time spent physically in the United States in valid R-1 status toward the 50year maximum.
Family Members of R-1 Visa Holders
Spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21 of R-1 visa holders are eligible to apply for R-2 visa status and can accompany or follow to join the R-1 visa holder. R-2 visa holders are subject to the same time limits as the principal R-1 visa holder, and also may recapture time. R-2 visa holders are not permitted to work in the United States.
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