R-1 Visa for Temporary Nonimmigrant Religious Workers

R-1 VisaThe R-1 visa program, intended for those whose lives and work are dedicated to religious practices and functions, is for those who are coming to the United States to be temporarily employed as a minister or in another religious vocation. To qualify, the applicant must have been a member of an established, non-profit religious denomination for at least two years before filing the petition. In addition, one must work at least an average of 20 hours per week for one of the following:

  • A religious organization in the United States that is designated as a non-profit;
  • Meets the criteria above and is affiliated with a religious denomination in the U.S.; or
  • A religious organization authorized by a group tax exemption holder to use its group tax exemption.


  • Religious Occupations are defined as not only having duties that primarily relate to a traditional religious function, but they must be recognized as a religious occupation within their particular denomination and definitively involve carrying out the beliefs of the denomination.
  • Ministers are defined as being both authorized and fully trained according to the standards set forth by their particular denomination. While there is no systematically required standard, the petitioner must confirm that the applicant is qualified to perform the duties of their particular religious occupation.
  • Denominational membership is defined not as a formal affiliation, but as a shared practice of worship. Membership in a particular denomination would be indicated by a minimum of two years of affiliation prior to filing a petition in order to work in that same denomination.
  • Religious Denomination is defined as a religious group or a faction of believers who share a common religious creed and are governed by an ecclesiastical authority. They may demonstrate their denomination by sharing any of the following:
    • Common worship
    • Common doctrine and discipline
    • Common religious ceremonies
    • Common places of worship

If a religious group does not answer to a central governing body, they may acquire denominational acknowledgement by submitting documentation of their organizational structure.

Process of Obtaining R-1 Visa

A foreign national seeking to obtain an R-1 status must first have an existing U.S. employer file a Form I-129 on their behalf. An R-1 visa may not be obtained at any U. S. embassy or consulate abroad without prior I-129 approval. This allows the USCIS to ensure requirements have been met by all parties. Once approved, consular post will determine eligibility for the R-1 visa. As with all individuals, U. S. Customs and Border Protection may determine entry into the United States.

In addition to Form I-129, the petitioner must present evidence of their eligibility for the classification in which they are seeking, and both the petitioner and the beneficiary must meet the requirements detailed below.

Petitioner’s Requirements

Requirements for petitioners differ based on the tax exemption claimed by the petitioner. See the list below for specific requirements:

  • If the petitioner is claiming exemption as a “bona fide non-profit religious organization,” and has its own individual IRS letter proving the status of 501(c)(3), then a valid and current determination letter from the IRS must be submitted.
  • If the petitioner is claiming exemption as a “bona fide religious organization,” that is recognized as tax-exempt under a group exemption, then a valid determination letter from the IRS must be presented, along with proof of the group ruling that they are tax exempt.
  • If the petitioner is claiming exemption as “a bona fide organization” affiliated with the religious denomination, and was granted exemption under 501(c)(3), or prior enactments of the Internal Revenue Code, as something other than a religious organization, then the following must be presented:
    • A valid tax exemption letter from the IRS
    • Documentation outlining the religious nature and purpose of the organization
    • A certification of religious denomination that states the organization petitioning is affiliated with the denomination.
    • Documentation describing the organization’s religious purpose and nature of the organization’s activities.

Beneficiary’s Requirements

In order to verify that the beneficiary is eligible for R-1 immigrant status, one must provide the following evidence:

  • Proof of membership (for all cases)

Evidence that the religious worker is a member of a religious denomination having a non-profit organization within the United States and having been a member for at least two years prior to application.

  • Proof of previous R-1 employment (for extension of R-1 stay)

Provide IRS documentation or evidence that he or she received compensation.

If the religious worker received non-salaried compensation, provide IRS documentation OR verifiable evidence of all financial support and a description of where they lived.

If the religious worker is a minister, you will need to provide the following:

  • A copy of the religious worker’s certificate of ordination or similar documents;
  • Documents proving the religious workers qualifications to work as a minister according to the standards set forth by their particular denomination.
  • If theological education is not required by the denomination, please provide the following:
    • Requirements for ordination;
    • Evidence of the requirements for ordination that were performed;
    • Levels of ordination, if there are any.

If the religious worker received no salary, but supported themselves and their family independently, please provide evidence to document.

On-Site Inspections

The USCIS reserves the right to conduct pre-approval inspections according the regulations of 8 CFR 214.2(r)(16). If inspection is requested, approval of the petition would be contingent upon satisfactory completion of the inspection.

A physical address must be provided in order for the USCIS to conduct on-site inspection of the requested place of worship in order to verify that it exists. Post-adjudication inspections may also take place in cases of suspected fraud or to verify the beneficiary’s work hours, compensation, and the duties required of them in their position.

Dual Intent

An R-1 must maintain intent to depart the United States when their nonimmigrant stay expires. Simultaneously, the USCIS may not deny an application on the basis of any filed or approved permanent labor certification application or a filed or approved immigrant visa petition.

Family of R-1 Visa Holders

An R-1 worker’s spouse and dependent children may be eligible for R-2 classification. An R-2 classification does not authorize the individual to accept employment.

Change of Location of Employment

A change of location would be constituted by not only a physical location change, but also by any changes in the original terms and conditions of an approved R-1 petition. If any such changes did occur, the petitioner would need to file an amended petition and receive approval prior to any changes in the religious workers originally approved location of employment.

As an exception, ministers are able to move from position to position in varying locations within the same denomination, as long as their parent organization is the original petitioner. As long as that is the case, they would need only to list the anticipated locations of employment on the I-129 in order to satisfy the USCIS tax requirements. No amended petition would need to be filed in this situation.

Period of Stay

While initial admission under an R-1 status is granted for only up to 30 months, an applicant may be approved for extensions up to an additional 30 months. The USCIS does not allow for extensions of an R-1 status to exceed a total period of five years of physically residing in the United States.

Applicants may petition for a new R-1 visa after residing outside of the United States for a minimum of one year. However, these limitations do not apply if the applicant did not reside continuously in the United States during the duration of their initial R-1 status.

B-1 Visa Holders

If a member of a religious denomination wished to seek temporary admission into the United States, they may be eligible for a B-1 nonimmigrant visitor category. (see 8 CFR 214.2(b)(1)) Missionaries who do not qualify under the R-1 nonimmigrant religious worker classification may also be eligible to enter the United States as a B-1 business visitor.

Should you have any questions or if you would like to schedule a consultation, please contact me by submitting the form or by calling me at (248) 900-3399.  I accept clients from across the U.S. and around the world.  My law office is conveniently located in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan for in-person meetings.  For phone consultation, you can reach me from any part of the United States or abroad.