R-1 Visa Requirements02 Feb 2023
Congress created the R-1 visa classification to allow religious organizations to bring different categories of religious workers from affiliated religious organizations overseas to staff organizations in the United States for a temporary period. A basic overview of the R-1 nonimmigrant visa category is provided here for the benefit of MurthyDotCom readers.
Types of Religious Workers
There are three types of religious workers who qualify for R-1 visas:
- Minister: A person who is fully trained and authorized by the denomination to lead worship and other religious duties traditionally performed by clergy of that religious organization, such as conduct worship services, preaching, conduct marriage and funeral services, etc. The minister may perform some administrative duties if they are incidental.
- Religious Occupation: The duties must be primarily related to the religious function and to carrying out the beliefs of the denomination. Additionally, it must be a recognized religious occupation within the denomination. Examples of individuals in religious occupations include, but are not limited to, liturgical workers, religious instructors / teachers, religious counselors, cantors, catechists, workers in religious schools, hospitals or religious health care facilities, missionaries, religious translators, or religious broadcasters.
- Religious Vocation: A religious vocation is a calling to a religious life as evidenced by the demonstration of commitment practiced in the religious organization, such as taking of vows. The religious denomination must have a class of individuals whose lives are dedicated to religious practices and functions such as nuns, monks, and religious brothers and sisters.
Nonimmigrant Worker Requirements
The nonimmigrant worker must have been a member for at least two years of the religious organization abroad that has a nonprofit religious organization in the United States. The two-year membership must precede the filing of the petition. The petitioner must provide proof of membership either through membership certificates or letters from the religious organization abroad.
- If the position is for a minister, the petitioner must provide proof of ordination or other documentation to evidence that the minister has been authorized by that religious organization by an ordination certificate or other evidence that the minister is authorized according to the requirements of the organization for clergy.
- If the position is for a religious occupation, the petitioner must show how the individual is qualified to perform the occupation either by education, training, or experience.
- If it is a religious vocation, the petitioner must establish the taking of vows, etc.
The employer must be a U.S. nonprofit religious organization or affiliated with a U.S. nonprofit religious organization that is exempt from taxation in accordance with 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986. The employer must also offer at least 20 hours of employment and generally must show the financial ability to pay a living wage to the religious worker.
R-1 status may be granted for an initial period of up to 30 months and can be extended for an additional 30 months. After five years, the individual must exit the U.S. for a period of one year before applying again. There is an exception for seasonal workers who stay for six months or less in the U.S.
The USCIS will conduct either a pre-adjudication site visit and/or a post-adjudication site visit to determine whether the employer is a bona fide religious organization and whether the religious worker is functioning in the position for which the petition was filed. A petitioning religious organization is only eligible to request premium processing service for an R-1 petition if the USCIS has previously conducted a site visit at the employer’s location.
The R-1 visa is a good option for religious organizations that wish to employ religious workers from affiliated religious organizations overseas in order to augment their religious worker staff or meet a staffing shortage in a particular religious function.
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