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Aliens who wish to enter the United States to perform religious work require the religious worker type R visa. This visa for temporary religious workers is a non-immigrant visa, as established in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).

To apply for this visa, the foreign citizen must be a proven religious worker or belong to a non-profit religious organization recognized by the US. The immigration lawyers in Los Angeles at Lluis Law are specialists in this type of Amerian visa. For over 40 years, we have helped immigrants settle in the United States or help them with their immigration cases.


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What is a Religious worker visa?

The type R visa is a non-immigrant visa intended exclusively for individuals who apply to enter the United States to temporarily develop a work activity of a religious nature. 

Foreign religious workers are considered to be aliens duly authorized by a tax-free ecclesiastical institution. These might be:

  • Priests.
  • Ministers. 
  • Monks.
  • Rabbis.
  • Buddhists.
  • Deacons.
  • Other people who conduct religious ceremonies or undertake vocational studies of their profession.  

The visas that the US immigration system grants to these people are of the R-1 category. While immediate family members (spouses and children) are granted the R-2 visa. 

Benefits of the R-1 visa for the United States

Some of the benefits offered by the religious worker visa in the US include:

  • Travel inside and outside the United States.
  • Remain legally in the US for a period of stay of 30 months, with extensions up to a total maximum of 5 years.
  • Work legally in the United States in religious duties. 
  • Entry into the country of their immediate relatives (spouse and children under 21 years of age).
how to get a Green Card

Another of the most important benefits of the R-1 visa is that it allows its holders to opt for permanent residence. That is, get the Green Card and later achieve American citizenship by naturalization.

What does the US government consider a religion?

USCIS considers a religion to be a group of people who are led by an ecclesiastical administration. To do this, the members of the entity must:

  • Have shared beliefs.
  • Possess a code of doctrine in common.
  • Have a common worship system.
  • Possess meeting places.

What is a religious occupation?

A religious occupation is a position that is directly related to a traditional religious role. For example, members of a religious entity.

The religious occupations that are eligible to apply for the R visa are the following:

  • Members of the clergy: Priests, ministers, rabbis, deacons and so on.
  • Other religious members: Councils, missionaries, singers, instructors, translators, etc.

USCIS does not consider as “religious worker” to those individuals with administrative positions, such as: Doormen, students, maintenance personnel and fundraisers.

R type visa for temporary religious workers

Who qualifies for the Religious worker visa?

Religious workers of legitimate religions and cults are eligible to apply for an R-1 visa. This visa authorizes its holders to enter, work legally and reside in the United States for more than two years. However, they can request a visa extension before the end of this period.

Accompanying family members of the religious worker who obtain the R-2 visa may also live in the United States for the same period as the R-1 holder. However, they are not allowed to work.

Note: Citizens of Canada and Bermuda do not require a religious visa to enter US territory and engage in religious activity. However, they need to have a temporary worker petition approved by USCIS.

Requirements for the religious visa

You must meet the following eligibility requirements to apply for the religious worker R visa:

  • Be an authorized member of a non-profit religious entity or organization recognized by the United States.
  • You have been a member for at least 2 years with the religious entity or organization before submitting the religious visa application.
  • If you obtain an R visa, you intend to leave the US before the expiration of your visa period.
  • If you are a part-time religious worker, you must work a minimum of 20 hours per week.
  • Have documents detailing the financial assets owned by the religious entity and/or its finances.
  • You are a religious authority, be it a minister, priest, pastor, deacon or other.
  • In case of carrying out a religious work of a vocational and non-professional nature, they must be qualified to fulfill his function.
  • If you have been in the US for 5 years as a religious worker, you must remain outside the US for a minimum of one year.

How do I get a religious work visa?

To obtain a religious visa, an employer in the US must file a petition on your behalf through Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, with the Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

The employer must submit certain evidence of their eligibility for the R visa, it must mainly be shown that they meet the requirements of Volume 2, Part O, of the Policy Manual imposed by USCIS.

priest with r visa in the united states

If any of the requirements established by USCIS pose a substantial burden to the religious organization, you can apply for a waiver through the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, better known as RFRA. Note that:

  • The petitioner must show that they qualify for the exemption under RFRA.
  • Must be able to support the request with relevant documentation.
  • Failure to provide a duplicate copy of the I-129 and supporting documents could cause USCIS to delay issuance of the visa.

The religious worker’s petition must have been approved before they apply for the R-1 visa at the US Embassy. After the petition is approved, the employer receives a Notice of Action, Form I-797. The notification must also be submitted on the day of the interview with the consular officer, who will verify its approval. An approved I-129 petition does not guarantee the beneficiary automatic approval of the R-1 visa.

Documentation required for the application of the type R visa

If you are applying for an R visa for religious worker, you must submit the following:

  • Form (DS-160), Electronic Application for Nonimmigrant Visa.
  • Valid and current passport to travel to the United States.
  • Two recent 2×2-inch size photographs as indicated by the system.
  • Fee receipt for the $190 application processing fee.
  • Recent medical exams.
  • Financial sponsorship.
  • Civil documents, these can be:
    • Birth Certificate.
    • Marriage certificate.

All documents you submit must be translated into English. The interpreter must be qualified to perform such a translation. Likewise, applicants for derivative R-2 visas must submit a separate application.

Additional documentation for the R visa interview

At your interview with the US embassy or consulate, you may need to submit some of the following additional documents:

  • Letter from an authorized representative of the religious organization certifying your religious membership. In addition, you must demonstrate your membership in the religious organization for a period of two years.
  • Evidence of the financial assets of the religious organization.
  • Documentation of the religious organization.
  • If you are a minister: Be authorized to lead religious worship. Additionally, your functions must be fully described.
  • Religious professional: In this case, you must submit at least a title or its equivalent.
  • Vocational or non-professional worker: You must demonstrate that you are qualified to perform the religious activity.
  • If you will be working for an affiliated organization: Submit an existing description between both organizations.

How long does it take to obtain an R religious worker visa?

Expedited processing of an R-1 visa could take no more than two weeks for special government cases. If the applicant does not have the benefit of premium processing, the visa could take 2-3 months. 

Although the entire process of processing and approval of this visa could normally take between 8 and 9 months. Before, USCIS must have approved the petition filed by the employer in the United States (church or congregation).

To apply for premium processing, you will need to file Form I-907 , Application for Premium Processing for a fee of $1,500.

Pre-screening to determine your eligibility

USCIS will inspect the religious organization before reaching R visa applicants to approve their application. The religious entity must provide:

  1. The address where the beneficiary of the religious visa will work.
  2. The beneficiary’s salary, responsibilities, and work hours.

If USCIS suspects any type of fraud or that the religious entity has made material changes, USCIS will constantly monitor the location to ensure that the entity does not cause undue delay in the process.

How much does a religious visa cost?

The fee for processing the R-1 visa is $190. This fee is paid before making the visa application. Depending on the country from where it is requested, this fee may vary. This fee is called the visa issuance fee.

After making the payment, the applicant must save the test receipt issued by the system. This receipt must be attached to the application form, the petition and the other required documents.

Another cost is for applicants with Italian nationality. Since December 2019, spouses and children of Italian nationality must pay a fee of $129 per person.

Note: If you apply for premium processing, the total cost of the R visa application would be more expensive, since an additional cost of $1,500 is added.

Can I change employers with the religious visa?

Religious workers who hold the R visa can change their employer or place of employment if they meet the necessary requirements. 

  • To change religious employer: The worker must inform USCIS within 14 days. You must submit the I-129 along with a supporting certification.
  • To change your workplace: You must file a modified petition if there are changes to the terms and conditions of employment. Also, you must be approved before you change your place of employment.

Applicants must notify USCIS of any termination of employment based on the R-1 visa. To contact USCIS, do so at one of the following two addresses:

  1. Mail: US Department of Homeland Security 

  US Citizenship and Immigration Services

                        California Service Center

                        Attn: BCU Section Chief

                        PO Box 30050

                        Laguna Niguel, CA 92607-3004

  1. Email: [email protected]

Frequently asked questions about the R visa for religious workers

religious vocation with visa type r from the united states

How can I apply for a Green Card as an R-1 visa holder?

If you are an R-1 visa holder, you can become a permanent resident of the USA. You can do this through methods such as adjustment of statusfamily-sponsored residency, or employment-based immigration visas for religious workers (EB-4 visas). You may be eligible to apply for a Green Card after 2 years in R-1 status.

How long is an R-1 visa valid for?

The R-1 visa initially has a validity period of 30 months. When the permit to stay in the US is about to expire, the holder can request an extension. 

The extension of the religious visa authorizes the worker to stay another 30 months legally in the country. You should note that after completing 60 months of stay, USCIS will not grant any further extensions.

At the end of that time, the religious worker must return to his or her home country or apply for a Green Card using one of the methods mentioned above.

Do I have to attend the interview to obtain the R visa?

Applicants between the ages of 14 and 79 must attend the interview at the US embassy or consulate.

You will need to schedule the interview, so it is advised that you do it as soon as possible to avoid any delays, as the US embassy or consulate may have a heavy workload.

After scheduling the appointment with the consular officer, the applicant receives a confirmation letter. It specifies the day and time when they must be present for the appointment. This document must also be carried on the day of the interview.

What happens if I am denied a religious visa?

If your R visa application is denied under section 214(b), you can reapply for another. However, you must show that different circumstances exist with respect to the previous request.

We remind you that you should never submit false documentation, this would lead to a permanent denial of the R visa or a ban on entry to US territory.

Can the R visa be renewed?

The R visa can be renewed and its process is the same as when you applied for it the first time. Applicants may become eligible under the Interview Waiver Program (IWP). 

Thanks to this program, individuals who apply for a renewal will not need to be interviewed in person by a commissioned US official.

In this article we have seen everything related to the religious worker visa (R-1) for the United States, now if you or a family member need help to process this type R visa or any other immigration matter, contact us. Our experienced lawyers will be able to provide you with the best legal advice possible for the processing of these visas.


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