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R visas for religious workers

What is an R category visa?
The R category visa is for foreign nationals who are religious workers such as priests, ministers, nuns or
imams or other religious occupation. The foreign religious workers want to enter the US for temporary
employment for at least 20 hours. They must be members of a denomination in a foreign country with
an affiliate religious denomination in the US.

What is a religious occupation?
A religious occupation is one where the duties relate to a traditional religious function. The occupation
or position must be recognized within the denomination as a religious occupation. The primary duty of
the position is to inculcate, teach religious creeds or beliefs of the denomination.
A religious minister is one who is authorized by a religious denomination to conduct religious worship
and other duties performed by clergy. They must possess training according to the denomination’s

What is denominational membership?
Membership in a religious denomination means that the person shares faith and worship practices with
a religious denomination. They must have been members of a religious denomination for at least two
years before filing the petition. They must work in the same religious denomination that will sponsor
them into the US.

How can one prove membership in a religious denomination?
A religious denomination is a group of community of believers who are under the authority of a
common ecclesiastical government. They must demonstrate that:

  • They have a common creed or a common statement of faith.
  • They have forms of worship, services or ceremonies in common.
  • They have a common formal code of doctrine and discipline.
  • They have common places of religious worship or religious congregations


Who qualifies for an R-visa?
Religious workers are those who:

  • Have dedicated their lives to religious practices and functions
  • Members of a religious denomination for two years prior to filing the petition
  • The religious denomination to which they belong has a bona fide non-profit religious
    organization in the US


Where can R-visa holders work?
R-visa holders can work for:

  • Non-profit religious organizations in the US
  • Non-profit religious organizations affiliated with a religious denomination in the US
  • Religious organizations authorized by a group tax exemption holder to use its group tax


What if the religious worker is a missionary?
A missionary is a religious worker who has:

  • Been accepted into the missionary training or deployment program
  • Agreed to a prescribed set of duties and responsibilities
  • Acquired formal missionary training under a formal religious or denominational training
  • The missionary training and missionary work are integral parts of the religious development of
    their adherents;
  • Missionary workers will not be compensated.
  • Financial means to support himself or herself while doing the missionary work such as personal
    or family savings, host families in the US, donations from churches of the denomination.


Who can file a petition for an R-visa?
The US denomination or religious group must file a Petition for Non-immigrant Worker (Form I-129) on
behalf of a foreign national or foreign religious worker. When the USCIS has approved the Petition, the
US Embassy or Consulate in the foreign country will invite the religious worker to apply for an R visa. The
US Embassy or consulate will determine if the R-1 visa applicant meets the eligibility criteria in the
approved petition.

When religious workers appear at the US Embassy or Consulate in their country, what must they
The religious worker must prove that they have an intent to depart from the US after their employment
is terminated. They must prove that they have an intent to return to their foreign residence. They must
prove that they do not intend to immigrate to the United States. However, if the religious worker has
already filed an immigrant visa petition or has obtained a permanent labor certification, this will not be
a reason for denying the R-1 visa application of the religious worker. (The USCIS has a special category
for immigrant religious workers who can stay permanently in the US as legal residents.)

What must the US religious denomination prove?
They must prove that:

  • They are a religious denomination by presenting their articles of incorporation.
  • They are exempt from taxation by the US Internal Revenue Service.
  • They have a certificate of exemption from taxation.
  • The religious occupation for which they are seeking a visa is one that has a salary or
  • If the religious occupation is not compensated (like missionaries), they must prove that the
    religious worker has the means to support himself while in the US.


How long is the R visa valid for?
The USCIS may grant an R visa for up to 30 months or two and a half years. It may be extended but the
total length of stay cannot go beyond sixty months or five years. The religious denomination must apply
for an extension prior to the end of the initial duration of stay.

Can the family of the religious worker join the religious worker in the US?
The spouse and children under the age of 21 may join the religious worker and they will be eligible for
an R-2 visa. However, the R-2 visa will not allow them to be employed in the US.

Are you a religious denomination? Do you need assistance in filing a petition for foreign religious
workers or missionaries? You may call or see any of our trained immigration lawyers at Lluis Law who
can help you. Call or see us today.