The R-1 Nonimmigrant Religious Worker visa is a special category of visa allowed by the United States immigration service. It allows people of varying religious faiths to enter the country to perform religious work.
Like all visas, however, the R-1 visa has its own restrictions and requirements and can get confusing for someone looking for the right application.
Although it’s one of the least talked about visas, the R-1 visa helps hundreds of religious workers travel and work in the United States.
But how does it work and who is eligible? We look into these questions below.
The History of the Religious Worker Visa
Religion is an important part of our country. The history of the United States includes the respect for religious institutions and thus religious denomination is a part of the framework of U.S. immigration law.
The USCIS writes on their website that since 1924, Congress has maintained a special category for people who are ministers and other religious workers through the Immigration and Nationality Act. This law can apply to people developing their religious vocations as nuns, monks, priests, or others who vow their lives to a religious position.
What the R-1 Visa Offers
The religious worker visa category gives U.S. religious denominations and churches the ability to fill positions in their institutions.
Whether they are looking to diversify their clergies or their staffing or whether they cannot fill the positions in the U.S., the R-1 visa gives an opportunity for these workers to come into the country legally and perform their religious duties.
For example, hundreds of Catholic churches in the country are constantly rotating their priests and clergymen, sometimes rotating them with foreign-born workers that come to their communities, stay for a few months, and then move on.
There is an annual limit of 5,000 religious workers who are allowed this visa every year.
What is the R-1 Visa?
There are several categories of visas and each has its own requirements. The R-1 Nonimmigrant Religious Workers visa permits foreign nationals that work within religious occupations to enter the country and perform their given duties as religious workers.
This visa applies to ministers and non-ministers that work in a religious vocation or occupation. Under this visa, they may immigrate to or adjust their status in the U.S.
The visa has several benefits for people who qualify, including:
- If people obtain an R-1 visa, they can become full-time students in the United States
- The visa allows people the freedom of movement around the country
- Recipients of the R-1 visa can apply for a green card in certain circumstances
- They can also apply for R-2 dependent visas for their spouse and unmarried children
Individual Requirements for the R-1 Visa
To qualify for this visa, applicants need to fulfill certain requirements and provide specific documentation that proves their role in a religious school or organization.
The applying religious worker, for example, must provide:
- Evidence that the person belongs to a religious denomination and has been working with their organization for a minimum of 2 years immediately following the R-1 petition.
- The person must prove their religious worker qualifications. So, if the person is applying to work as a minister, they must show proof that they have the ordination or required training as a minister under the denomination or organization they are applying with.
Requirements for the R-1 Visa for Religious Organizations Sponsoring An Individual’s Petition
If a religious organization is sponsoring a person’s petition for an R-1 visa, they too are subject to meet requirements. For example:
- The religious organization must show evidence of its 501(c)3 status or affiliation with another non-profit organization.
- They must provide evidence of the purpose and/or affiliation of their religious organization or school.
- They must show that the position they are filling with a foreign national is, in fact, religious in nature and cannot fall under an administrative or maintenance role. In other words, a religious organization must fill positions that require religious duties to be performed and cannot hire foreign nationals simply to do bookkeeping or managerial tasks.
- The organization must also show that they will be compensating the religious worker and providing wages or other in-kind compensation (like housing or stipends). If the religious worker will be self-supporting, then evidence for this must also be brought forth.
For How Long is the Religious Worker Visa Granted?
An R-1 visa can initially be granted for a period of admission of up to 30 months. Extensions after this initial period may be granted for another 30 months.
The total period of stay, however, for an R-1 classification cannot go over 5 years.
Recent Changes to the R-1 Visa
In March 2022, President Biden signed H.R. 2471. This provision extends the EB-4 non-minister special immigrant religious worker program until Sept 30, 2022. The deadline also applies to the spouses and children of these visa holders.
Work with a Portland Immigration Attorney to Secure and Properly Apply for Your R-1 Visa!
There is no U.S. immigration process that is 100% clear-cut. The immigration system is complex, and that’s why acquiring the legal help of an experienced attorney can ensure the process is successful, speedy, and efficient.
Risking a denied application because of administrative oversight can be frustrating. If you’re looking to apply for a religious worker visa or your organization is looking to sponsor a religious worker, contact legal help.