The R-1 visa is for temporary non- immigrant religious workers, explicitly intended for special individuals whose lives are devoted to religious practices and functions, as eminent secular members of the religion. Legally, the R-1 visa is for a foreign national who is coming to the United States temporarily to be employed as a minister or in another religious vocation or occupation at least part time. Because this is a temporary visa, the R-1 visa allows an initial period of admission of up to 30 months.
In order to apply for an R-1 as a religious worker, you must follow certain criteria provided by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). To be specific, where you are employed/petitioner must allow follow strict measures: You must be employed by a non-profit organization in the United States, which is affiliated with a religious denomination in the United States, or the religious organization must be authorized by a group tax exemption holder to use its group tax exemption. As an applicant/beneficiary (as an occupation or at least part time), you must have an average of at least 20 hour per week, have been a member of a religious denomination for at least two years directly before filing the petition, and under USCIS definitions, be a “religious worker”.
Expanding on USCIS definitions, a religious occupation is one whose duties primarily relate to a traditional religious function, be recognized as a religious occupation within the denomination, and be primarily related to, and clearly involve, inculcating or carrying out the religious creed and beliefs of the denomination. A common illusion is that you can apply to an R-1 visa, based on administrative or support positions such as janitors, maintenance workers, clerical employees, or fund-raisers or similar positions solely involved in soliciting donations, this is not true. Limited administrative duties that are only incidental to religious functions are permissible. Ministers are defined as individuals who are suitably authorized by the religious denomination, and are fully trained according to the denomination’s standards to conduct religious worship and other duties usually performed by the clergy.
A prospective or existing U.S. employer must file Form I-129, Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker, on behalf of foreign nationals seeking to enter the United States as a nonimmigrant minister, or a religious worker in a religious vocation or occupation. An R-1 visa cannot be issued at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate abroad without prior USCIS approval of Form I-129. This process allows USCIS to review the petition to determine whether the petitioning organization and the beneficiary have met their respective eligibility requirements for this nonimmigrant classification. Upon approval of the petition, the consular post then determines whether the foreign national is eligible to receive the R-1 nonimmigrant visa. As with all individuals who appear at ports of entry, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) determines whether the beneficiary may be admitted to the United States. Visa exempt workers must present the original Form I-797, Notice of Action, at a port of entry as evidence of an approved Form I-129 R petition.
Along with Form I-129, the petitioner must include evidence of eligibility for the classification sought. Both the petitioning organization and the religious worker must satisfy certain requirements, which are discussed below. (Please remember to provide a duplicate copy of the Form I-129 and all supporting documents. Failure to submit a duplicate copy to USCIS may result in a delay in the issuance of a nonimmigrant visa abroad from the U.S. Department of State.)
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