The R-1 visa allows religious workers who have a legitimate job offer by a religious organization to work in the United States for up to 30 months. USCIS will grant exceptions to the 30-month standard, but the worker’s stay in the U.S. cannot exceed 5 years.
Although technically this is a non-immigrant visa, it allows for you to eventually apply for permanent residence.
Typically, people who fall under this category are accredited religious ministers who are authorized to administer worship and perform other tasks that are typically associated with individuals of similar rank within their denomination.
In order to qualify as a temporary religious worker, you must fulfill the following requirements:
- You must be a member of the same religious organization as the one that has hired you, and you must have been a member for at least 2 years prior to filing for an R-1 visa.
- You must be immigrating to the U.S. to work as a minister or in a religiously-focused job position.
- You must have a job offer by a recognized non-profit religious group in the U.S.
- You must plan to work at least part-time for the organization, with an average of 20 hours of work per week.
Both you and your employer will be required to provide some information when filing for the visa. Your employer will have to show that the organization is tax-exempt under IRS standards, and evidence of how the organization plans to pay you for your service.
If you will not be compensated for your work, then the organization will need to show that the position is part of a legitimate program where previous workers have held R-1 status, workers in this position are typically unpaid, there is formal training for the position, and the work you will be doing is part of an established tradition of the religious organization, such as missionary work.
If the organization is a subset that is affiliated with a larger religion, your employer will also have to provide evidence that speaks to the religious foundation of and the purpose for the organization, publications from the organization, and a religious denomination certificate.
Further, if you qualify for an R-1 visa but want to bring your spouse and/or children who are under 21 years old, you can file for an R-2 visa which will allow them to join you in the U.S. while your R-1 visa is valid.