RELIGIOUS WORKERS-IMMIGRANT AND NONIMMIGRANT VISAS
R-1 Nonimmigrant Visas
R-1 Visas are for Religious workers seeking to temporarily enter the US to pursue work in their field
To qualify for an R visa, the applicant must be:
- A minister, or
- A person working in a professional capacity in a religious occupation or vocation, or
- A person who works for a religious organization or an affiliate in a religious occupation who has been a member of the religious group for at least the two years immediately preceding the application.
Definition of a Religious Denomination:
A religious denomination is defined as a religious group that have:
- some form of ecclesiastical government,
- a common belief or statement of faith,
- some form of worship,
- religious services and ceremonies,
- established places for worship,
- religious congregations or
- comparable evidence of a bona fide religious organization.
Definition of Religious Occupations:
A religious occupation is an activity relating to "traditional religious functions.'' Examples of religious occupations include liturgical workers, religious instructors, religious counselors, cantors, workers in religious hospitals or religious health care facilities, missionaries, religious translators or religious broadcasters.
Definition of a Religious Vocation:
A religious vocation is defined as "a calling to religious life''. This calling must be shown through the demonstration of commitment to the religious denominations, such as taking vows. Examples of this include nuns, monks, religious brothers and sisters.
How to apply for an R visa:
If an applicant is outside the US, he or she can apply for an R-1 visa without prior USCIS approval. The applicant can go to the appropriate consulate and present the required evidence and be issued the visa on the spot.
If a person is in the US and wishes to change from one nonimmigrant category to R-1status, an application must be made with the USCIS. This is done by submitting Form I-129, the R Supplement and supporting documents proving eligibility for the category. Also, extensions of stay in R-1 status, after a person has entered the US, are made in this way..
Evidence that must accompany an R visa application:
- documentation of the sponsoring religious group's tax exempt status or eligibility to receive tax exempt status in the US.
- The sponsoring organization must submit a letter offering employment. This letter must outline the applicant's two-year minimum membership, including where that membership occurred, in or out of the US. It should also include a statement that the foreign-based religious group and the US based religious group for which the applicant will work belong to the same denomination. It must state the name and location of the organization in the US for which the applicant will work. It should outline the applicant's qualifications and salary.
Length of stay in R status:
- The initial period of authorized stay is 3 years.
- The maximum stay in R-1 status is 5 years (including extension request of 2 years.)
- A person can obtain R-1 status again after remaining outside the US for one year before making another application.
Visa status for the spouse and children of an R-1 nonimmigrant:
- Spouses and children of R-1 nonimmigrants and classified as R-2. They are not permitted to work unless they have their own work visas.
Permanent Residency as a Religious Worker
The most important difference between the two religious worker categories is that an applicant for a green card as a special immigrant religious worker must have been working for the religious denomination for at least two years prior to making the application. This work may be done either in or out of the US.