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R-1 Visa: Working Temporarily in a Religious Capacity

The R Visa category is designed for people who wish to come to the U.S. to work in a religious capacity on a temporary basis.

An R-1 is a temporary, nonimmigrant visa that allows a foreign national to be employed in the U.S. at least part-time (20 hours per week) by a non-profit religious organization to work as a minister or in another religious occupation or vocation.

Qualifications for the R-1 Visa
  • Must have been a member of a religious denomination having a bona fide non-profit religious organization in the United States for at least 2 years immediately preceding the filing of the petition.
  • The religious denomination and its affiliate, if applicable, must either be exempt from taxation or must qualify for tax-exempt status.
R-1 Period of Stay

An R-1 visa is initially granted for a period of up to 30 months. R-1 status may be extended, but the worker’s stay may not exceed the maximum of 5 years (60 months).

R-1 Family Visas

An R-1 worker’s spouse and unmarried children under the age of 21 may be eligible for R-2 classification to accompany the principal applicant to the United States for the duration of his/her stay. Like H-4s, the dependents of an R-1 worker may not be employed while in the United States in R-2 status.

R-1 Visa Application Procedure

An existing US employer/organization must file an I-129 Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker on behalf of a prospective R-1 religious worker, as well as an R-1 Classification Supplement, with the USCIS. In addition, supporting documents are required from both the religious organization and the religious worker.

Supporting Documents Required for the Religious Organization
  • Proof of tax-exempt status
  • Proof of salaried or non-salaried compensation for the worker
  • If the religious worker will be self-supporting:
    • Documents that establish the religious worker will hold a position that is part of an established program for temporary, uncompensated missionary work, which is part of a broader international program of missionary work sponsored by the denomination
    • Evidence that establishes that the organization has an established program for temporary, uncompensated missionary work in which:
      • Foreign workers, whether compensated or uncompensated, have previously participated in R-1 status;
      • Missionary workers are traditionally uncompensated;
      • The organization provides formal training for missionaries; and
      • Participation in such missionary work is an established element of religious development in that denomination.
  • Evidence that establishes that the organization’s religious denomination maintains missionary programs both in the United States and abroad
  • Evidence of the religious worker’s acceptance into the missionary program
  • Evidence of the duties and responsibilities associated with this traditionally uncompensated missionary work

Copies of the religious worker’s bank records, budgets documenting the sources of self-support (including personal or family savings, room and board with host families in the United States, donations from the denomination’s churches, or other verifiable evidence acceptable to USCIS)