R-1 Visa: Religious Worker Visa
- What is a R-1 Visa - Religious Worker Visa?
- Am I Eligible to Apply for an R-1 Visa for Religious Workers?
- How Do I Apply for an R-1 Visa?
- Supporting Documents Required for Form I-129
- Documents Required for R-1 Visa
- R-1 Visa Fees
- Visa Ineligibility / Visa Waiver
- Bringing Family Members of Religious Workers on an R-1 Visa (R-2 Visa)
- Time Period and Time Limits of R-1 Visa
- Admission through a U.S. Port of Entry on an R-1 Visa
- How Do I Extend My Stay on an R-1 Visa?
- Staying Beyond My Authorized Stay in the US and Being Out of Status
- HELP! with R-1 Visa for Religious Workers
What is a R-1 Visa - Religious Worker Visa?
The R-1 Religious Worker Visa is a nonimmigrant visa for a foreign national who is coming to the United States temporarily to be employed at least part time (average of at least 20 hours per week) by a non-profit religious organization in the United States (or an organization which is affiliated with the religious denomination in the United States) to work as a minister or in a religious vocation or occupation.
- You are a member of a religious denomination having a bona fide nonprofit religious organization in the U.S.;
- The religious denomination and its affiliate, if applicable, are exempt from taxation, or the religious denomination qualifies for tax-exempt status;
- You have been a member of the denomination for two years immediately preceding your visa application;
- You are entering the United States solely to carry on the vocation of a minister of that denomination, or, at the request of the organization, you are entering the United States to work in a religious vocation or occupation for the denomination or for an organization affiliated with the denomination, whether in a professional capacity or not;
- You have resided and been physically present outside the United States for the immediate prior year, if you have previously spent five years in this R-1 Visa classification; and
- You must intend to depart the United States at the end of your lawful status, absent specific indications or evidence to the contrary (however, there is no requirement that you have a residence abroad that you have no intention of abandoning).
How Do I Apply for an R-1 Visa?
In order to be considered for an R-1 Visa (Religious Worker Visa), your prospective US employer first must file a USCIS Form I-129, Petition for Nonimmigrant Alien Worker, with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). See below for Supporting Documents Required for USCIS Form I-129.
It is very important for prospective employers to file the petition as soon as possible (but not more than 6 months before the proposed employment will begin) to provide adequate time for petition and subsequent visa processing.
The petition, Form I-129, must be approved by USCIS before you (the prospective religious worker) can apply for an R-1 Visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate abroad. When the petition is approved, your employer or agent is sent a Notice of Action, Form I-797, which serves as the petition approval notification. You should bring the approved I-129 petition receipt number to the interview, so that petition approval can be verified. Be aware that the approval of a petition does not guarantee R-1 Visa issuance to an applicant found to be ineligible under provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act (see Visa Ineligibility / Visa Waiver below).
Once your prospective employer has received Form I-797, generally you should apply for the R-1 Visa at the US Embassy or US Consulate with jurisdiction over your place of permanent residence. Although you may apply at any U.S. consular office abroad, it may be more difficult to qualify for the R-1 Visa outside your country of permanent residence. To schedule the interview appointment, you will need the receipt number that is printed on the approved Form I-129 petition.
As part of the R-1 Visa application process, you must have an interview at the US Embassy consular section if you are from age 14 through 79, with few exceptions. Persons age 13 and younger, and age 80 and older, generally do not require an interview, unless requested by the US Embassy or US Consulate. The waiting time for an interview appointment can vary, so apply for your R-1 Visa early. Visa wait times for interview appointments, and visa processing time information for each U.S. Embassy or Consulate worldwide, is available on our website at Visa Wait Times. Learn how to schedule an appointment for an interview, pay the application processing fee, review embassy specific instructions, and much more by visiting the US Embassy or US Consulate website where you will apply.
During the visa application process, usually at the interview, an ink-free, digital fingerprint scan will quickly be taken. Some visa applications require further administrative processing, which takes additional time after the interview by a Consular Officer.
Supporting Documents Required for Form I-129
The petitioning employer must submit USCIS Form I-129 including the R-1 Classification Supplement signed by the employer as well as the following supporting documents for the religious worker and the religious organization.
Supporting Documents Required for the Religious Worker
Proof of membership
- Evidence that the religious worker is a member of a religious denomination having a bona fide non-profit religious organization in the United States for at least 2 years immediately preceding the filing of Form I-129
If the religious worker will be working as a minister, provide:
- A copy of the religious worker’s certificate of ordination or similar documents
- Documents reflecting acceptance of the religious worker’s qualification as a minister in the religious denomination, as well as evidence that the religious worker has completed any course of prescribed theological education at an accredited theological institution normally required or recognized by that religious denomination. Include transcripts, curriculum, and documentation that establishes that the theological institution is accredited by the denomination
- If the denominations do not require a prescribed theological education, provide:
- The religious denomination’s requirements for ordination to minister
- A list of duties performed by virtue of ordination
- The denomination’s levels of ordination, if any, and
- Evidence of the religious worker’s completion of the denomination’s requirements for ordination
Proof of previous R-1 employment (for extension of stay as an R-1)
- If you received salaried compensation, provide IRS documentation that you received a salary, such as an IRS Form W-2 or certified copies of filed income tax returns reflecting such work and compensation for the previous R-1 employment
- If you received non-salaried compensation:
- If IRS documentation is available, provide IRS documentation of the non-salaried compensation
- If IRS documentation is not available, provide an explanation for the absence of IRS documentation and verifiable evidence of all financial support, including stipends, room and board, or other support for you with a description of the location where you lived, a lease to establish where you lived, or other evidence acceptable to USCIS
- If you received no salary but provided for your own support and that of any dependents, provide verifiable documents to show how support was maintained, such as audited financial statements, financial institution records, brokerage account statements, trust documents signed by an attorney, or other evidence acceptable to USCIS
Supporting Documents Required for the Religious Organization
Proof of tax-exempt status
- If the religious organization has its own individual IRS 501(c)(3) letter, provide a currently valid determination letter from the IRS establishing that the organization is a tax-exempt organization
- If the organization is recognized as tax-exempt under a group tax-exemption, provide a group ruling
- If the organization is affiliated with the religious denomination, provide:
- A currently valid determination letter from the IRS;
- Documentation that establishes the religious nature and purpose of the organization;
- Organizational literature; and
- A religious denomination certification, which is part of the R-1 Classification Supplement to Form I-129
Proof of salaried or non-salaried compensation
- Verifiable evidence of how the organization intends to compensate the religious worker, including specific monetary or in-kind compensation. Evidence of compensation may include:
- Past evidence of compensation for similar positions
- Budgets showing monies set aside for salaries, leases, etc.
- Evidence that room and board will be provided to the religious worker
- If IRS documentation, such as IRS Form W-2 or certified tax returns, is available, it must be provided
- If IRS documentation is not available, an explanation for its absence must be provided, along with comparable, verifiable documentation
If the religious worker will be self-supporting
- Documents that establish the religious worker will hold a position that is part of an established program for temporary, uncompensated missionary work, which is part of a broader international program of missionary work sponsored by the denomination
- Evidence that establishes that the organization has an established program for temporary, uncompensated missionary work in which:
- Foreign workers, whether compensated or uncompensated, have previously participated in R-1 status;
- Missionary workers are traditionally uncompensated;
- The organization provides formal training for missionaries; and
- Participation in such missionary work is an established element of religious development in that denomination.
- Evidence that establishes that the organization’s religious denomination maintains missionary programs both in the United States and abroad
- Evidence of the religious worker’s acceptance into the missionary program
- Evidence of the duties and responsibilities associated with this traditionally uncompensated missionary work
- Copies of the religious worker’s bank records, budgets documenting the sources of self-support (including personal or family savings, room and board with host families in the United States, donations from the denomination’s churches), or other verifiable evidence acceptable to USCIS
- To schedule the interview appointment, you will need the receipt number that is printed on the approved Form I-129 petition.
- Online Form DS-160, Nonimmigrant Visa Electronic Application. Some US Embassies and US Consulates that have not converted to this new online process may require older nonimmigrant application forms. See Form DS-160 for more information.
- A passport valid for travel to the United States and with a validity date at least six months beyond your intended period of stay in the United States (unless country-specific agreements provide exemptions). If more than one person is included in the passport, each person must complete an application.
- One (1) 2x2 photograph. See the required photo format explained in Nonimmigrant Visa Photograph Requirements;
In addition, you must be prepared to present to the consular officer any or all of the following documentation to verify that you and your religious organization qualify for the R-1 Visa status:
- Proof of tax-exempt status or eligibility for tax-exempt status and;
- A letter from an authorized official of the specific unit of your employing organization certifying:
- That if your religious membership was maintained, in whole or in part, outside the United States, the foreign and United States religious organizations belong to the same religious denomination;
- That, immediately prior to the application for the R-1 visa, you have been a member of the religious denomination for the required two- year period;
- If you are a minister, that you are authorized to conduct religious worship for that denomination. The duties should be described in detail; or
- If you are a religious professional, you have at least a baccalaureate degree or its equivalent, and that such a degree is required for entry into the religious profession; or
- If you are to work in a nonprofessional vocation or occupation, you are qualified if the type of work to be done relates to a traditional religious function;
- The arrangements for remuneration, including the amount and source of salary, other types of compensation such as food and housing, and any other benefits to which a monetary value may be affixed, and a statement whether such remuneration shall be in exchange for services rendered;
- The name and location of the specific organizational unit of the religious denomination or affiliate for which you will be providing services;
- If you are to work for an organization that is affiliated with a religious denomination, a description of the nature of the relationship between the two organizations;
- Evidence of the religious organization's assets and methods of operation; and
- The organization's papers of incorporation under applicable state law.
- Nonimmigrant visa application processing fee. For current fees of State Department government services, see Fees for US Visa Services. You will need to provide a receipt showing the visa application processing fee has been paid, when you come for your visa interview.
- Visa issuance fee. Additionally, if the R-1 Visa is issued, there may be an additional visa issuance reciprocity fee. See the US Visa Reciprocity Tables to find out if you must pay a visa issuance reciprocity fee and what the amount is. If there is a fee for issuance for the visa, it is equal as nearly as possible to the fee charged to United States citizens by the applicant's country of nationality.
Visa Ineligibility / Visa Waiver
There are categories of persons ineligible to receive visas under U.S. law. In some instances an applicant who is ineligible, but who is otherwise properly classifiable as a temporary religious worker, may apply for a waiver of ineligibility and be issued a visa if the waiver is approved. If you are found to be ineligible, the consular officer will advise you of any waivers.
Bringing Family Members of Religious Workers on an R-1 Visa (R-2 Visa)
Your spouse and unmarried children under 21 years of age may accompany or join you in derivative R-2 Visa status. Derivative status means that their visas will be dependent on your nonimmigrant status. If you change your status, your family must change their status. If you lose your status, your family will also lose their status. Your spouse and unmarried children under 21 years of age may study but may not accept employment in the United States.
Time Period and Time Limits of R-1 Visa
An R-1 Visa status may be granted for an initial period of admission for up to 30 months. An extension of an R-1 status may be granted for up to an additional 30 months. The total stay in the United States in an R-1 status cannot exceed 60 months (5 years).
Admission through a U.S. Port of Entry on an R-1 Visa
You should be aware that a US Visa does not guarantee entry into the United States. A visa is issued by a Department of State Consular Office abroad, but a separate U.S. agency, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), has authority to deny admission at the port of entry. Also, the period for which you are authorized to remain in the U.S. is determined by the CBP, not the Department of State Consular Office. At the port of entry, a CBP official must authorize your admission to the U.S. At that time, the CBP official will provide you with a stamped I-94 Form (Arrival-Departure Record, Form I-94 Card), which will include your admission number to the U.S. and which will note how long you are permitted to stay in the U.S. For more information, see:
- Inspection Process for U.S. Entry
- I-94 Form (Arrival-Departure Record, Form I-94 Card)
- Length of Stay is Determined by My I-94 Form (Arrival-Departure Record, Form I-94 Card) -- NOT My Visa
How Do I Extend My Stay on an R-1 Visa?
Religious workers seeking to stay beyond the time indicated on their Form I-94, Arrival-Departure Record must have approval from the USCIS to extend their stay. The decision to grant or deny a request for extension of stay is made solely by USCIS. To learn more about how to apply for an extension and its requirements, see Extend US Visa Status (I-94 Form I-94 Card): Visa Extension to Stay Longer on My Visit to USA
Staying Beyond My Authorized Stay in the US and Being Out of Status
You should carefully consider the dates of your authorized stay and make sure you are following the procedures under U.S. immigration laws. It is important that you depart the U.S. on or before the last day you are authorized to be in the U.S. on any given trip, based on the specified end date on your I-94 Form (Arrival-Departure Record, Form I-94 Card). Failure to depart the U.S. will cause you to be out-of-status.
- Staying beyond the period of time authorized by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and being out-of-status in the U.S. is a violation of U.S. immigration law. You may become ineligible for a visa in the future for return travel to the United States.
- Staying unlawfully in the United States beyond the date Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials have authorized--even by one day--results in your visa automatically being voided. In this situation, you are required to reapply for a new nonimmigrant visa, generally in your country of nationality.
- For nonimmigrants in the U.S. who have an I-94 Arrival-Departure Record with the endorsement of Duration of Status or D/S, but who are no longer performing the same function in the U.S. that they were originally admitted to perform (e.g. you are no longer working for the same employer or you are no longer attending the same school), an official or an immigration judge may make a finding of a status violation, resulting in the termination of the period of authorized stay.
If you forget to turn in your I-94 Arrival-Departure Record, see How to Record Departure from the US After the Fact.
- Have a specific question? To help you find an answer quickly, we have placed "Ask a Visa & Immigration Lawyer" boxes on this page. Simply type a question in any of the boxes to receive a response online from a visa and immigration lawyer.
- For assistance in your country, contact the nearest U.S. Consulate.
- For inquiries on visa cases in progress overseas, contact the appropriate U.S. Embassy or Consulate handling your case.
- For assistance within the U.S., contact the State Department's Visa Office at 202-663-1225. You may also email a general inquiry to firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to indicate the general subject of your inquiry on the subject line (e.g., temporary religious worker visa), and do not expect an immediate reply. You may also write to:
- In the U.S., you may also contact your nearest USCIS District office or Sub Office or call the national USCIS toll-free information service at 1-800-375-5283.
- You may also want to seek the advice of an immigration attorney (this link will help you find the right lawyer for your case), or an immigrant assistance organization. A list of accredited organizations and individuals is maintained by the Executive Office of Immigration Review, which also maintains a list of free legal service providers.
U.S. Department of State
Washington, DC 20520-0113