R-1 nonimmigrant visas are granted to foreign nationals entering the United States for the purpose of temporary employment with a religious organization for up to five years. The employer must be a non-profit religious organization within the United States, tied to any religious denomination in the United States, or religious entity with group tax exemption.
R-1 visa holders are permitted to reside and travel within and out of the United States, obtain a driver’s license, open bank accounts, and pursue education for the duration of the visa. Travel outside the country does not count against total visa time.
As typical of similar employment-based visas, the religious organization must petition for the R-1 visa on behalf of the foreign religious worker. In contrast to other career-based visas, however, there is no limit on the number of visas the United States grants each year.
Who Is Eligible for the R-1 Visa?
There are many hundreds of religious organizations throughout the world, a large majority with ties to religious organizations in the United States, and many that do not. The main requirement to be eligible to petition for a religious-based visa is that the organization must be legally established or have official ties in the United States, and both the applicant and the employer must meet certain criteria, as follows:
Religious worker applicant must:
- Be a member of the same religious denomination for at least two years, and the denomination must have a non-profit religious organization in the United States.
- Will work only in a non-profit religious organization, or another entity affiliated with your religion.
- Must hold a primary religious role within the organization, such as a minister, priest, monk, or choir director.
- Will commit to working no less that 20 hours per week with a non-profit religious organization in the United States.
- Commit to working in your religious capacity only.
The non-profit religious organization must meet one of the following:
- Registered in the United States as a non-profit religious organization recognized by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) with a 501c(3) tax-exempt status.
- A religion-affiliated organization with 501c(3) or other IRS code tax exemptions that do not recognize it as a religious organization by definition.
- A religious organization with non-profit group tax exemption.
To be eligible, the religious organizations must also file an attestation of the following:
- The organization is a legal, non-profit, tax-exempt entity affiliated with a religious denomination and location where employment will be.
- The foreign worker is a member of the denomination for two or more years; qualified for the position; will work 20 or more hours per week; documentation of job title, job description, salary, and non-salary compensation. Confirmation the worker will not obtain secular employment.
- The number of members and employees in the organization where the visa holder will be employed, as well as summary job responsibilities.
- A list and the number of R-1 visa holders affiliated with the organization for the previous five years.
As long as the R-1 visa holder is fulfilling the duties in the United States, they are not required to remain in the country for the entirety of the visa. The R-1 visa also permits holders to work part time in other countries in addition to their part-time work in the United States.
Additionally, the R-1 visa holder may also be permitted to have family members accompany them to the United States. Spouses and children under age 21 may be eligible for the R-2 dependent classification but will not be permitted to obtain work in the country.
How Does the United States Define Religious Denomination, Occupation, and Vocation?
- Denomination: The United States defines denomination as a religious community of people who share a common belief or faith who gather for communal worship and are led by ecclesiastical governance. In addition, the United States defines religious denominations characteristics include:
- Congregation of shared faith and beliefs
- Worship the same or similarly
- Fellowship in a shared, community house of worship
- Follow similar ceremonies, rituals, and services
- Governed by the same doctrine and disciplinary codes
- Operate religious organizations
The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) notes that a governing hierarchy is not necessary to be classified a denomination. For example, a church that shares common faith with other churches but does not share the same organizational structure or governance still meets the U.S. requirements of ecclesiastical government.
- Religious occupation: Activities relating to traditional religious functions recognized within the denomination as a religious occupation. The role must be primarily related to instruct and disseminate the beliefs and faith of their religious creed. Under the rule, organizations must provide evidence showing the occupations specific to the denomination to meet requirements. Qualifying positions may include religious instructors, counselors, cantors, religious hospital workers, missionaries, liturgical workers, and others.
- Religious vocation: Under the R-1 rule, vocation is defined as a devout and lifetime commitment to the religious denomination through vows, ceremonies, investitures, and the like, to living a religious lifestyle. Qualifying positions may include monks, nuns, and religious sisters and brothers.
Are All Religious Vocations Eligible for the R-1 Visa?
The temporary religious worker visa is only for those with an established career in the field and those pursuing the career. However, workers in religion-affiliated fields may be eligible for the visitor B visa instead.
Visitor visas are designated for those requesting to enter the United States temporarily for business, tourism, or both, purposes. Religion-affiliated activities such as informal study, private worship, prayer, meditation, or attending religious services or conferences may be permitted through the visitor B visa.
In certain circumstances, this type of visa can be utilized for ministers coming to the United States to work short term, and whose salary is paid by their own religious organization in their native country. Qualifying activities include:
- Embarking on an evangelical tour with no residency appointment with an individual church.
- A pulpit-exchange program with a U.S.-based church.
- Church members on missionary or volunteer service, such as providing aid to the needy or elderly, on behalf of the denomination.
Philadelphia Immigration Lawyers at MC Law Group, LLC Assist Clients Seeking Religious Employment in the United States
There are a number of employment opportunities with religious organizations in the United States. If you are interested in seeking ecclesiastical employment through the R-1 visa, the experienced Philadelphia immigration lawyers at MC Law Group, LLC can help you through the process. Call us at 215-496-0690 or contact us online today to schedule a free consultation. Located in Philadelphia, we serve clients throughout the tri-state area, including Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and nationwide.