USA Immigration Work Permits and Visas
US Immigration for Religious Workers - the R-1 Visa
The R-1 visa category is suitable for religious ministers and for persons working in a religious vocation or occupation wishing to migrate to the United States of America.
Who qualifies for R status?
The R visa may be available for the following individuals:
The candidate must be authorised by a recognized religious denomination to conduct religious worship and to perform other duties usually performed by authorised members of the clergy of that religion. Evidence indicating such qualifications can consist of certificates of ordination, licenses, formal letter of conferral and the like. Deacons, practitioners of Christian Science and officers of the Salvation Army may be deemed ministers.
Workers in a Religious Vocation or Occupation: This category includes both professional workers and other religious workers.
The candidate must seek to work in a religious vocation or occupation requiring a US baccalaureate degree (or its foreign equivalent).
The candidate must be working in a religious vocation or occupation.
What is a Religious Occupation or Vocation?
A religious occupation means a habitual engagement in an activity that relates to a traditional religious function. Examples include liturgical workers, religious instructors or counselors, cantors, catechists, workers in religious hospitals or religious health care facilities, missionaries, religious translators or religious broadcasters.
A religious vocation means a calling to religious life, evidenced by the demonstration of a lifelong commitment as practiced in the religious denomination, such as the taking of vows. Examples include nuns, monks and religious brothers and sisters.
What is a religious denomination?
Regulations state that a religious denomination will generally be found to have the following elements:
- Some form of ecclesiastical government
- A recognized creed and form or worship
- A formal code of doctrine and discipline
- Religious services and ceremonies
- Established places of worship
- Religious congregations
However, an interdenominational religious organization may also be treated as a religious denomination if it is tax-exempt.
How long can the R-1 worker remain in the US?
The R visa can be issued for a total of 5 years. However, it may be issued for 3 years initially, which then can be extended to 5 years. Should the candidate wish to remain longer in the US in R-1 status, he or she must reside and be physically present outside the US for one year to be eligible for R-1 status again. The R visa could potentially lead to a green card.
How to obtain the R-1 Visa
Each R-1 case must be well documented with supporting evidence proving that all legal requirements are met.
The first step is to determine how the petition should be filed. If the candidate is already in the US, a petition must be sent to one of the regional Service Centers. The applicable R visa can then be obtained later. If the candidate is outside the US, the appropriate Consulate can determine both eligibility for the classification and issue the visa from the same application. No separate petition to a Service Center is here needed.
Dependents of the R-1 holder (spouses and children) may normally obtain R-2 visas.