R-1 (Religious Worker) Visa

R-1 is a nonimmigrant visa issued to foreign nationals in religious occupations who perform the duties of a religious worker in the United States.

Currently, there are no quotas imposed on R-1 visas and their processing takes three to ten weeks. In order to qualify, the individual must have maintained a membership in a recognized religious denomination (or an organization affiliated to it) that is registered as a non-profit, tax-exempt (or eligible) organization in the US for least two years before the date of the application.

The definition of a religious denomination entails:

1) recognized creed and form of worship,

2) formal code of doctrine and discipline,

3) religious services and ceremonies,

4) established places of worship, and

5) religious congregations.

The individual religious worker must, thus, be

1) a minister of religion,

2) a professional providing services to a religious organization requiring a US baccalaureate or its foreign equivalent,

3) religious worker in a religious occupation necessary for the running of a religious denomination (examples of this category include liturgical workers, religious instructors, cantors, catechists, workers in religious hospitals or health care facilities, missionaries, religious translators or broadcasters, and so forth),

4) workers in religious vocation (namely, a recognized traditional commitment such as those of nuns, monks, religious brothers or sisters who may have taken vows).

Word of caution: The list of qualifying individuals does NOT include janitors, maintenance staff, clerks, fundraisers, or others of similar occupation. The request for the employment of the R-1 worker must come from the employing organization. To this effect, authorized personnel of the organization should establish in writing the membership of the worker in a particular denomination for at least two years, details of the position to be filled, salary, benefits, compensations (such as food and housing as well as other benefits whose value can be converted into monetary figures), name, and location of the organization. The religious organization should also provide proof that the foreign and US organization belong to the same denomination. If the foreign national will work for an organization affiliated to the petitioner, a statement that describes the relationship should also accompany the application.

The applicant may benefit from the privileges of the R-1 such as full-time study, travel freely in and out of the US, accept payment for services, apply for Green Card (status adjustment), and apply for derivative status (R-2) for dependant spouses and children under the age of 21. While dependants are allowed to engage in full-time study, they are not eligible to work in the US.

Further, the R-1 worker may receive payments ONLY from the sponsoring religious organization. There are no travel restrictions on religious workers as long as their visa is valid.

Documents required to support the R-1 visa application include:

1) Evidence that the individual works as a minister of a religion, in professional capacity, or vocation (evidence in this category include certificate of ordination, licenses, letters of conferral. Deacons, practitioners of Christian Science, and Salvation Army officers may be considered as ministers),

2) Documents that prove membership in a religious denomination for at least two year before application,

3) Contract of employment signed with an organization in the US,

4) Letters of recommendation supporting the petition,

5) Proof of the organization’s non-profit, tax-exempt status issued by IRS (Internal Revenue Service) of the US or incorporation documents,

6) Proof that the individual is qualified to perform the duty,

7) Evidence of financial support to be provided by employer.

The duration of stay for workers and their dependants is an initial period of three years with possibility of extension for another two more years. The total duration may not exceed five years. For the extension of stay, the religious worker is advised to use Form I-129 (Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker). If the worker wishes to change employers, which is legally allowed, he or she must file a new Form I-129 with the USCIS together with the appropriate fees and supporting documents. When the case gets approved, an I-797 (Notice of Approval) will be sent to the employer or its agent.

Word of caution: the approval does not guarantee entry into the US before the applicant can establish eligibility to enter the US that the US Customs and Borders Protection (CBP) determines at the port of entry or POE (often the first US travel destination of the individual). The CBP determines the duration of stay of the temporary religious worker and issues the I-94 or the Record of Arrival-Departure. H

owever, the authority to determine the eligibility of the person for extension is the sole responsibility of the USCIS. Visas may be denied on the basis of the person’s capacity to endanger the security, health, and welfare of Americans. Such disqualifying conditions include communicable diseases like tuberculoses and dangerous physical or mental disorders. Also excluded are persons categorized as criminals, terrorists, subversives, members of totalitarian parties, former Nazi war criminals, and those who used an illegal means to enter the United States or are otherwise ineligible for citizenship.

If, after a period of stay in the US, the worker chooses to adjust his or her status to that of a Permanent Resident (Green Card), the person or a representative must file Form I-360 for special immigrants as well as Form I-485 (application for status adjustment) as soon as the priority date for the I-360 is current. Form I-539 should be filed for dependants for status adjustment or extension. Re-issuance of an R-1 visa requires the person to live and physically remain outside of the US for one year after previously residing three to five years as a religious worker.

If the R-1 applicant is already in the US, the application should be sent to regional Service Centers. For applicants outside of the US, a Consular office determines his or her eligibility based on appropriate evidence provided. If the person is visa exempt, the foreign national may apply at a port of entry. Petitions for religious workers should be filed no more than six month before the starting date of the job. In the event that application is not filed at least 45 days before the starting date of the job, processing of the petition as well issuance of the visa may not be completed in time for the starting date.

Visa application at a US consular office must be accompanied by passport, birth certificate, and other civil documents coupled with evidence proving that the person will not become a public burden once on US soil. In addition, each applicant must take a physical examination by a medical doctor designated by the US consular office and pay all of the appropriate costs for it. A payment of nonrefundable US $ 260 for application and US $ 65 or the local currency equivalent must be made for the issuance of the visa. As a precautionary measure, all applicants are advised not to make final travel arrangements, dispose of their property, and resign from their jobs before a visa is issued to them.