Ministers and non-ministers in religious vocations and occupations have the opportunity to come to the U.S. temporarily under the R-1 nonimmigrant visa. This visa allows them to perform religious work, contributing to the spiritual and communal well-being of various religious organizations across the country.

Who Qualifies for the R-1 Visa?

An R-1 nonimmigrant is a noncitizen who comes to the United States temporarily to work at least part-time (an average of at least 20 hours per week) as a minister or in a religious vocation or occupation. The employment must be with a:

  • Non-profit religious organization in the United States;
  • Religious organization authorized by a group tax exemption holder to use its group tax exemption; or
  • Non-profit organization affiliated with a religious denomination in the United States.

To qualify, the individual must have been a member of a religious denomination with a bona fide non-profit religious organization in the U.S. for at least two years immediately before filing the petition.

How to Apply: Petition Process and Evidence Needed

A U.S. employer must file Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, on behalf of the noncitizen seeking to enter the United States as an R-1 religious worker. Here are the steps and requirements for the petition process:

  1. Form I-129 Submission: The prospective or existing U.S. employer files this form.
  2. RFRA Exemption: If any eligibility requirement burdens the organization’s religious exercise, they may seek an exemption under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) with a written request explaining the burden.
  3. Supporting Documents: The petitioner must provide evidence of eligibility, including proof of tax-exempt status, proof of salaried or non-salaried compensation, and proof of denominational membership.

Demonstrating Tax-Exempt Status

The petitioning organization must prove its tax-exempt status. This can be done by providing:

  • A valid IRS 501(c)(3) determination letter.
  • An IRS group tax exemption determination letter if recognized under a group tax exemption.

If the IRS determination letter does not specify religious exemption, additional documentation such as articles of incorporation or bylaws must be provided to establish the religious nature and purpose of the organization.

Evidence of Compensation

The petitioner must submit verifiable evidence showing how the religious worker will be compensated, including:

  • Past evidence of compensation for similar positions.
  • Budgets, W-2 forms, or certified tax returns.
  • Documentation for self-support, if applicable, such as bank records or donation records.

Verification of Denominational Membership and Job Qualifications

The petitioner must also provide:

  • Evidence that the religious worker has been a member of a qualifying religious denomination for at least two years.
  • Qualifications for the offered position, such as ordination certificates, theological education documentation, and details of the denomination’s ordination requirements.

On-Site Inspections

USCIS may conduct on-site inspections before or after making a final decision on the petition. These inspections verify the details provided in the petition, including the work location, compensation, and duties of the religious worker.

Duration of Stay

An initial R-1 visa is granted for up to 30 months, with the possibility of extensions for an additional 30 months, not exceeding a total of five years. Time spent outside the U.S. does not count towards the five-year limit.

Intent to Depart and Dual Intent

R-1 religious workers must intend to depart the U.S. when their nonimmigrant stay expires. However, the filing of an immigrant visa petition or permanent labor certification application will not be a sole basis for denying R-1 classification.

Family Members

Spouses and unmarried children under 21 of R-1 visa holders may be eligible for R-2 classification. However, R-2 dependents are not authorized to work in the U.S.

Employment Changes and Notification Requirements

Employers must notify USCIS within 14 days of any employment changes, including termination or change of employment location. A new Form I-129 must be filed for changes in employment terms or conditions.

For more detailed information about the R-1 visa and to ensure a smooth application process, consulting the USCIS Policy Manual and seeking professional advice is highly recommended. At Cambridge Immigration Law, our experienced team is ready to assist you with your R-1 visa application and any other immigration needs.

Contact us today to learn how we can support your journey to perform religious work in the United States.