Did you know there’s a visa available for religious workers?

December 19, 2022
Courtney Wachal

An R-1 nonimmigrant petition or a “religious worker” visa is one of the less common nonimmigrant statuses. However, it is a great option for individuals who are employed in a religious capacity and want to come to the United States temporarily to work in their religious vocation or occupation.

What is an R-1 nonimmigrant petition?

In order to qualify for R-1 status, an individual must be coming to the U.S. to work at least part time (at least an average of 20 hours/week) as a minister or in a religious vocation or occupation. Specifically, USCIS clearly states that the individual must be employed by one of the following:

  • Non-profit religious organization in the U.S.
  • Religious organization that is authorized by a group tax exemption holder to use its group tax exemption; or
  • Non-profit organization which is affiliated with a religious denomination in the U.S.

How do I qualify?

To qualify, USCIS lays out the following requirements:

  • Be a member of a religious denomination having a bona fide religious organization in the U.S. for at least the 2 years prior to filing the petition;
  • Be coming to the U.S. to work at least part-time (20 hours a week)
  • Be coming solely as a minister or to perform a religious vocation or occupation;
  • Be coming to or remaining in the U.S. at the request of the petitioner (essentially meaning that an employer is sponsoring you)
  • You cannot work in the U.S. in any capacity outside the scope of the basis of the R-1 approval

Employer Obligations

The employer serves as the sponsor of your petition. This means that they are listed as the petitioner on the I-129 form. If the individual seeks to change employers or there is a change in location, a new or amended petition may be required.

Process after filing the R-1

After your employer/attorney files the I-129 petition and pays the requisite fees, USCIS will then adjudicate your petition either via premium processing (within 15 calendar days) or regular processing. Typically, an R-1 extension is more likely to be approved via premium processing since it does not typically require a pre-approval inspection. However, an initial R-1 is unlikely to be approved through premium processing as it likely will require a site visit (pre-approval inspection) before it can be approved.

What is a pre-approval inspection?

For initial R-1 petitions, the U.S. regulations state that a pre-approval inspection may be required and they are often likely to occur. A pre-approval inspection is conducted by USCIS to confirm that the petitioning organization is meeting the requisite requirements of a bona fide religious organization. This is often verified through a site visit, where a government official visits the site to inspect the work location, talk to the religious organizations leaders to verify employment or ask to see records to confirm the organization meets the requirements of an R-1 bona fide religious organization. Then, if the officer feels the pre-approval inspection was successfully completed the petition would be considered for approval.

Once the R-1 is approved, the initial validity period is typically 30 months with the opportunity to extend the R-1 for an additional 30 months not to exceed 5 years.

Can My Spouse or Children Come with me?

Yes, similar to other nonimmigrant petitions, USCIS does allow for dependents (children and spouses) to come to the US on an R-2 dependent visa. One important thing to note about R-2 status is that it does not provide for work authorization.

Is there potential to obtain a green card after my R-1 maxes out?

Yes, under the EB-4 (employment based fourth preference) category religious workers may be eligible to apply for permanent residency pursuant to sponsor from your employer.

If the R-1 religious worker visa sounds like it may apply to you, please reach to one of our employment based attorneys for more information.

The material contained in this alert does not constitute direct legal advice and is for informational purposes only. An attorney-client relationship is not presumed or intended by receipt or review of this presentation. The information provided should never replace informed counsel when specific immigration-related guidance is needed.

© 2023 Minsky, McCormick & Hallagan, P.C. All rights reserved. Information may not be reproduced, displayed, modified, or distributed without the express prior written permission of Minsky, McCormick & Hallagan, P.C.

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