Religious Worker Visa


Non-Immigrant Visa for Religious Workers (R-1 Visa):

A job qualifying as a “religious vocation” which qualifies for the R-1 visa includes ministers of religion who are authorized by a recognized denomination to conduct religious worship and perform other duties usually performed by members of the clergy. The activity of an R-1 applicant must relate to a traditional religious function: it must embody the tenets of the religion and have religious significance, relating primarily, if not exclusively, to matters of the spirit as they apply to the religion. Examples of qualified R-1 religious workers might include pastors, priests, rabbis, ministers, or religious instructors. In addition, jobs qualifying for R-1 visas include those who will be actively involved in the religious functioning of the organization. It does not include janitors, maintenance workers, clerks, fund raisers, solicitors of donations, or similar occupations.

Qualifying for a religious worker visa requires membership in a religious denomination, with a bona fide nonprofit religious organization in the United States, for the two years immediately preceding the time of application. Bona fide religious organizations in the United States must have tax exempt status as an organization described in section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986. You must plan to work in a professional capacity in a religious vocation. Qualified R-1 applicants will receive a visa valid for three years and can renew their status after that period expires. However, you may not remain in the United States on an R visa for more than five years.

Immediate Family Members of R-1 Visa Holders (R-2 Visa):
Spouses and/or children under the age of 21 who wish to accompany or join the principal visa holder in the United States for the duration of his/her stay require derivative R-2 visas. Spouses and children of R visa holders may study in private or public schools in the United States on an R-2 visa. However, spouses on R-2 visas may not work. If a spouse on an R-2 visa is seeking employment, he or she must seek the appropriate work visa to do so. The principal R-1 visa applicant must prove the ability to support the family financially while in the U.S.

Premium Processing Service
USCIS announced on 07/21/09 that it will resume Premium Processing Service for nonimmigrant religious worker petitions filed by certain R-1 petitioners.  Only those petitioners who have successfully passed an on-site inspection are eligible to file under Premium Processing Service.

In August 2005, USCIS' Office of Fraud Detection and National Security completed a Benefit Fraud Assessment (BFA) which focused on religious worker petitions.  Based on that assessment, USCIS initiated a site inspection requirement as part of the adjudication process for religious worker petitions.  Due to the requirement for a successful site inspection prior to approval, premium processing was suspended for R-1 nonimmigrant religious worker visa petitions on November 28, 2006.
Under Premium Processing Service, USCIS guarantees petitioners that, for a $1,000 processing fee,  it will issue either an approval notice or, where appropriate, a denial notice, a notice of intent to deny, a request for evidence, or open an investigation for fraud or misrepresentation, within 15 calendar days of receipt. As the processing of R-1 nonimmigrant petitions includes procedures such as inspections, evaluations, verifications and compliance reviews, designed to ensure the legitimacy of the petitioner and statements made in the petition, USCIS cannot reasonably ensure the processing of R-1 nonimmigrant petitions within 15 calendar days for those petitioners who have not previously had a successful completion of a site inspection.  

Applying for Lawful Permanent Residence as a Religious Worker

To qualify as an EB-4 special immigrant religious worker, you must be a member of a religious denomination that has a non-profit religious organization in the United States. You must have been a member of this religious denomination for at least two years before applying for admission to the United States. You must be entering the United States to work:

    •    As a minister or priest of the religious denomination;
    •    In a professional capacity in a religious vocation or occupation for the religious organization (a professional capacity means that a U.S. baccalaureate degree or foreign equivalent is required to do this job);

    •    In a religious vocation or occupation for the religious organization or its nonprofit affiliate. (A religious vocation means a calling or devotion to religious life. Taking vows can prove that you have a calling to religious life. A religious occupation is an activity devoted to traditional religious functions. Examples of religious occupations include (but are not limited to) cantors, missionaries, and religious instructors.)

    •    You must have been performing this religious work for the past two years.

Application Procedures:

You or your employer must submit the applicable form with the USCIS Regional Service Center that serves the area where you will work. You must also submit:
    •    Proof that the religious organization qualifies as a non-profit organization
    •    A letter from an official of the religious organization in the United States:
    ◦    The letter should establish that you have been a member of the denomination for two years, and that you have at least two years of experience in your religious vocation or occupation.
    ◦    If you are a minister, the letter should establish that you have been authorized to perform religious duties in general and should specify which duties you are authorized to perform.
    ◦    If you are a religious professional, the letter should establish that you have a United States baccalaureate degree or the foreign equivalent that is required for your religious profession. You must also submit an official academic record.
    •    If you are applying to work in the United States in another religious vocation or occupation, the letter should establish that you are qualified to work in that religious vocation or occupation. For instance, if you are applying to work as a nun or a monk, you would need to provide evidence that you are a nun or a monk.
    •    If you are applying to work in the United States in a non-ministerial or non-professional capacity for a religious organization affiliated with a religious denomination, the letter should establish how the religious organization is affiliated with the denomination.
    •    The letter should also detail how you will be carrying on the work of a minister, or how you will be paid if you are working in a professional or other religious capacity. The letter should indicate that you will not be dependent upon supplementary income (from a second job) or charity (funds solicited for your support).

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