R-1 Religious Workers

Employment-Based Immigration

Nonimmigrant religious workers who come to the United States to work part-time (for at least 20 hours per week) are known as R-1 workers. An R-1 worker is someone who’s employed by a non-profit religious organization in the United States.

This is a religious organization authorized by a specific group tax exemption holder, or an organization affiliated with any religious denomination in the United States in a religious occupation, vocation, or as a minister.

What Are The Eligibility Criteria For R-1 Workers?

For you to qualify as an R-1 worker, you need to have been a bonafide member of any religious denomination or non-profit religious organization operating in the United States for at least two years before filing the petition.

Your petition must be filed by an existing or prospective U.S. employer, and this is done by filing Form I-129, otherwise known as the Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker. Your R-1 visa can’t be issued by a U.S. Embassy or Consulate overseas unless Form I-129 issued by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has been approved.

If you’re a foreign national who’s visa-exempt (e.g. Canadian), then you must present the original copy of your Form I-797, the Notice of Action. This reflects the approval of a valid I-129 R petition at a port of entry.

Aside from the forms mentioned, you and the petitioning organization will still have to comply with general requirements for the approval of your R-1 visa. Read on for the list of these requirements.

What Supporting Documents Are Required From The Religious Organization?

The petitioning employer, or the religious organization that will provide employment to the R-1 worker, must submit Form I-129 along with the R-1 Classification Supplement signed by the key personnel of the organization. These forms should be submitted along with these supporting documents:

Proof of Tax Exemption

  • If the religious organization has its IRS 501(c)(3) letter, then it should provide a valid determination letter from the IRS indicating that they are a tax-exempt organization.
  • If the organization is recognized as a tax-exempt entity under a group tax-exemption, they should provide a group ruling or documents to support their claim.
  • The organization should provide the following supporting documents if they’re affiliated with any religious denomination:
    • IRS-issued valid determination letter;
    • Any document that proves the religious purpose or nature of the organization;
    • A copy of the organizational literature; and
    • A religious denomination certification. This is a part of the R-1 Classification, a supplement to Form I-129.

Proof of Salaried and/or Non-Salaried Compensation

  • Proof of paid or unpaid compensation involves documents that serve as evidence as to how the religious organization compensates its workers. Depending on the nature of the religious organization, this can include specific monetary compensation. Evidence of compensation may include:
    • Proof that shows compensation for similar positions;
    • Budgets indicating the amount spent for salaries, leases, and other business expenses;
    • Proof that shows that board and lodging will be provided to the religious workers;
    • IRS-issued documentation, such as IRS Form W-2 or certified tax returns, and;
    • If IRS-issued documentation is not available, the religious organization must provide an explanation for its absence with verifiable documentation.

If You’re Self-Supporting

  • Documents that establish that you will hold a position that is part of an established program for uncompensated missionary, temporary work;
  • Proof of evidence that shows that the organization has an established program for temporary, uncompensated missionary work for:
    • Foreign workers who have previously participated in R-1 status, regardless if uncompensated or compensated;
    • Missionary workers providing services voluntarily and without a fee;
    • Proof of evidence that the organization provides formal training for missionaries and other religious workers; and
    • Participation in missionary work is an important element of the religious development within that denomination.
  • Evidence that proves that the organization’s religious denomination implements missionary programs in and out of the United States;
  • Evidence that documents how the religious worker accepts their membership to the missionary program;
  • Copies of the religious worker’s financial status, namely bank records, budgets documenting the sources of self-support income, which can include family and personal savings, donations from churches, and other verifiable evidence acceptable by the USCIS;
  • Evidence of the duties and responsibilities of the religious worker for their uncompensated missionary work.

What Supporting Documents Are Required From The Religious Worker?

Filing for an R-1 visa is a long process that will also require contributions from you. Once the petitioning employer prepares all of the necessary documents for your visa, you now have to compile several documents as part of your requirements, such as:

Proof of membership:

  • Evidence that you’re a bonafide member of a religious denomination with a non-profit religious organization in the U.S., operating for at least two years preceding the filing of Form I-129.

If you’re going to work as a minister, you must provide:

  • A copy of your certificate of ordination and other similar documents;
  • Documents that show your acceptance of the religious work, along with documents to show your completion of any theological education from an accredited theological institution. This includes copies of curriculums, transcripts, and other documentation that proves that the theological institution is recognized and accredited;
  • If the denominations don’t require theological education, you must provide:
    • The list of requirements to minister, as advised by the religious denomination;
    • Your list of duties for the ordination
    • The levels of ordination for the denomination, if applicable, and
    • Documents or any evidence that shows your completion of the denomination’s requirements for ordination

Proof Of Previous R-1 Employment

This is for your extension of stay as an R-1 worker. If you received salaried compensation, you should provide IRS documentation to prove that you received a salary. These documents can include official copies of filed income tax returns that reflect your religious work and compensation for any prior R-1 employment, or an IRS Form W-2.

  • If you received non-salaried compensation:
    • If IRS documentation is available, you should provide IRS-issued documentation to prove your non-salaried compensation.
    • You should submit a letter of explanation if you can’t provide any IRS-issued documentation. Valid documents and other types of proof (if available) should be attached to this letter. Verifiable evidence detailing the financial support you receive, both monetary and non-monetary should also be prepared, given to you with a description of the location where you lived, copies of your lease to establish where you lived, or other evidence acceptable to USCIS
    • If you don’t receive a salary but provide your own support and your dependents’, you’re required to provide verifiable documents or evidence to show how you accessed support. This will require you to compile financial records, like financial institution records, audited financial statements, trust documents signed by an attorney, brokerage account statements, or other evidence accepted by the USCIS.

How Do I Apply For The R-1 Visa?

Aside from filing the necessary documents from you and the employer, you have to go through several steps when applying for the R-1 visa. For starters, though, your employer should jumpstart the entire process by first petitioning the U.S. Citizenships and Immigration Services (USCIS), and then submitting all of the documents required from them.

Once this task has been ticked off from the list, you can now continue applying for your R-1 visa by accomplishing the following tasks:

Fill In Form DS-160

Applicants of non-immigrant visas should fill in Form DS-160, which is available online. This form will require you to submit your personal information, the purpose of your visit to the U.S., and background.

After you complete the form online, you will be provided with a code that you’ll have to use in your documentation file. Make sure that all of the details you placed in your Form DS-160 are correct, as you can no longer change your information after submission.

Pay Fees

You’ll have to pay $190 as your visa application fee for you to secure your R-1 visa. Depending on the relationship of your home country to the U.S., you might also have to pay other fees to continue with your visa application. These fees are often tagged as visa insurance fees, and the amount can vary.

After paying all of the necessary fees, don’t forget to keep a copy of your receipts and attach them to your document files. This will make your visa application easier and prevent you from paying the same fees twice.

Schedule Your Visa Interview

Non-immigrant visa applicants who are between 14 and 79 years old have to attend a visa interview with an official from the U.S. Embassy as part of their R-1 visa application process.

For you to complete this requirement, schedule the interview online and make sure that you do it as early as possible. The U.S. embassy operating in your home country might have a heavy workload, which is why it’s best if you schedule your interview with them ASAP to avoid waiting for weeks or months.

Once you’ve successfully completed your scheduling, you’ll receive a visa interview confirmation letter through your email. Print this document and make sure to bring it with you during your scheduled interview.

Prepare Your Document Files

After scheduling your visa interview, take the time to prepare all of your document files. These are essential to establish your intent for going to the U.S.

Your document files should contain the following:

  • Your valid passport
  • Photographs in compliance with the requirements set by the US Embassy
  • Confirmation page for Form DS-160
  • Compilation of receipts that prove you have paid all fees
  • A printed copy of your visa interview appointment
  • Form I-797
  • Documents to prove your eligibility for the R-1 visa, such as:
    • Documents and other evidence that prove that you have belonged to the religion for the past two years;
    • Recommendation letters proving your other religious affiliations
  • Valid contract issued by the U.S. employer
  • Educational qualifications that qualify you to work in a religious position (such as a minister)
  • Proof of financial support or documents that show that the employer will compensate you during your stay in the U.S.

How Long Is The R-1 Visa Processing Time?

The processing time for your R-1 visa is quite long, which is why you should prepare all the requirements in advance. Once the employer compiles the necessary documents and sends in the petition, you usually have to wait for at least six months for the USCIS to respond. The USCIS requires time to respond to R-1 visa applications as they have to visit the premises of the petitioning employer and check their eligibility

After the USCIS has visited the premises of the organization and approved their application, you can choose to pay for premium processing that will cost around $1,225. Paying the premium processing fee will guarantee that you’ll get a response from the USCIS about your visa in about two weeks.

If you don’t want to pay a premium processing fee and the USCIS approves the petition, expect to wait for another two to three months for your visa to be processed. In short, you’ll have to wait for about eight to nine months for your R-1 visa to be processed without paying the premium processing fee.

How Long Can An R-1 Worker Stay In The United States?

The initial period of your R-1 visa is valid for thirty months. After thirty months, you can apply for an extension, and once approved, you’ll be legally allowed to stay in the U.S. and continue employment with the religious organization for another thirty months.

The USCIS will no longer give you an extension after 60 months. After staying in the U.S. for the maximum period of time, you can either seek permanent residence in the country or return to your home country.

Can I Bring Family Members With An R-1 Visa?

Your children (as long as they’re unmarried and under 21 years old) and spouse can qualify as your dependents. They can go with you to the U.S. by applying for an R-2 visa. Your dependents can start the process at the same time you’re applying for your R-1 visa or after you’ve secured the visa. You’ll be required to submit your children’s birth certificates and marriage certificate to prove your relationship with your dependents.

Once your dependents secure an R-2 visa, they’ll be permitted by the U.S. government to stay with you as long as your R-1 visa remains valid. Your dependents can also process their Green Card once you’re approved for one.

Your dependents can choose to study full-time or part-time while being in the U.S. with you, but they’re not allowed to work with an R-2 visa. If your dependents want to seek employment in the U.S., they need to apply for another visa after you arrive.

Can I Get A Green Card With An R-1 Visa?

After securing an R-1 visa, you can choose to pursue permanent resident status usual methods of family or marriage. Another option available for R-1 workers is to apply for the EB-4 Green Card that allows religious workers like yourself to secure permanent residence in the U.S.

Next Steps

The process of becoming an R-1 worker can be overwhelming. There are various requirements and steps to take. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact us so that we can ensure you’re well prepared. We have years of experience and are happy to help you out.


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