Religious workers who meet the eligibility criteria and complete the application process are allowed to work in the US on a R1 visa

The R1 visa is for religious workers who want to work in a religious organization in the United States for a maximum period of 5 years. The organization must be registered as either a non-profit organization in the US, a religious organization that is tied to any religious denomination in the US, or a religious organization which has a group tax exemption.

Religious workers who meet the eligibility criteria and complete the application process are allowed to work in the US in their profession.

Additionally, not all religious workers can work in the US in these organizations. Only ministers and those who are directly tied to the religious work are qualified. Administrative and clerical workers or any support personnel cannot apply for the R-1 visa and must go through applying for other applicable visas.

Those who get the R-1 visa are allowed to live and work in the US for the duration of their visa. They can open bank accounts, get a driver’s license, as well as take advantage of studying opportunities. So they can enroll in part or full time study. They can travel in and out of the US, and the time that they are outside the country does not count as part of their total visa time.

There are also some workers who will work part time in the US in religious positions. They are not prohibited from that and can also work in other countries, while travelling to the US for various periods of time to fulfill their work duties. This means that if you get the R-1 visa, you are not required to stay in the US for the whole time that your visa is valid, but you can also go work in other countries.

There is also no cap on the number of R-1 visas that can be issued, so anyone who fulfills the requirements can take advantage of this visa to work in their vocational occupation.

What are the requirements for the R-1 visa?

There are various requirements for those who want to get the R-1 visa as religious workers. This is due to the fact that there are various religions in the world and not all of them could be widespread and established in the US. Because of that, there are requirements both for the person applying for the R-1 visa, as well as for the organization that hires the applicant.

The person who is applying for the R-1 visa must fulfill the following conditions:

  • Be a member of a religion for the past two years
  • The religion must have a non-profit organization in the US
  • Find a job in the non-profit religious organization, or an organization affiliated with the religion
  • The applicant must be a minister or a person working directly in the religious occupation
  • The applicant must commit to working at least 20 hours per week (part-time)
  • The applicant must not work in other positions except in their religious capacity

As for the non-profit organization, it must be either one of the registered organizations in the US.

  • A non-profit religious organization with its own Internal Revenue Service letter of 501(c)(3)
  • A non-profit religious organization with a group tax exemption
  • A non-profit organization affiliated with a religion which has tax exemptions under 501(c)(3) rules or other IRS codes that does not make it a religious organization by definition

If both the applicant and the organization hiring the person fulfill the criteria, then the application process can begin. However, since there are many religions in the world, the US institutions have seen it fit to define what it means to be in a religion and be eligible to apply for the R-1 visa.

A religion, or religious denomination is formed by a community of people who believe and are governed by rules of an ecclesiastical government. They also have these characteristics:

  • Worship similarly
  • Have a shared faith amongst their members
  • Perform similar rituals, services, and ceremonies
  • Have a shared code of discipline and doctrine
  • Have organizations that are religious
  • Have a shared place of worship

How to apply for the R-1 visa?

To apply for the R-1 visa, you as the applicant and your employer must follow several steps. First of all, the applicant cannot start the application process, but the employer must do that. This can be done by petitioning the US Citizenships and Immigration Services (USCIS) to allow the employee (applicant for R-1 visa) to work in the US

File the petition

The petition can be filed by filling in Form I-129, Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker. This petition will cost $460 which must be paid by the employer or organization. However, in addition to the form, the organization must attach other documents to prove their eligibility and the applicant’s eligibility:

  • If the organization is a religious one as per the IRS 501(c)(3), they must submit a letter from the IRS proving they are tax exempt
  • If the organization is group tax exempt, they must submit a letter from the IRS proving their status
  • If the organization has a religious affiliation but is not defined as a religious organization, it must submit these documents:
    • Letter from IRS proving they are tax exempt
    • Proof that they have a religious affiliation
    • Proof that they have a religious purpose and description of their activities
    • A letter from another religious organization stating that the petitioning organization has a religious affiliation
  • Proof that they compensate religious workers with a salary or in-kind benefits such as:
    • Past documents showing the compensation of religious workers in similar positions
    • Proof that they will provide accommodation to the worker
    • Budget documents which show planned expenses for salaries or in-kind benefits

As for the applicant, the organization submitting the petition must provide these documents to establish eligibility:

  • The applicant’s tax returns in the US or if not applicable, comparable documents
  • If the employee will not be paid, provide proof that they have the means to support themselves temporarily
  • Proof that the applicant is affiliated with the religion and has been so for the past two years

After the organization employing the applicant has submitted the petition, they must wait for it to be processed by USCIS. There may be additional proof requested, and in many cases, USCIS might ask for a visit to the premises to establish the relationship of the organization with the religion. If afterwards USCIS approves the petition, they will send the organization and the applicant Form I-797, Notice of Action. When this document is obtained, the applicant can then begin the application process at a US Embassy or Consulate in their place of residence.

Fill in Form DS-160

Form DS-160, Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application is the form which must be filled in by all applicants of non-immigrant visas. It will have questions regarding your personal information, background, and purpose of visit to the US. When you complete the form and submit it, you will get a confirmation page and code which you need to have in your documentation file.

Pay the fees

The visa application fee for the R-1 visa is $190. This fee must be paid in order to continue with your application. Also, other fees might apply depending on the relationship of your country with the US. These fees are called visa issuance fees and may vary from country to country. After you have completed all your payments, you must keep the receipts as proof and attach them to your document file.

Schedule your visa interview

All nonimmigrant visa applicants between 14 and 79 years old must attend a visa interview with an official at the US Embassy. To complete this requirement, you must schedule the interview. Since the US Embassy where you are applying from might have a high workload, it is best to schedule the interview as early as possible to avoid long wait times. When you complete your scheduling, you will get a visa interview confirmation letter, which you need to bring with you to your interview.

Prepare your document file

Your documents file must contain necessary proof to establish your intent for going to the US. It must contain these documents:

  • Your valid passport
  • One photograph following the USA visa Photo Requirements
  • The Form DS-160 confirmation page
  • Receipts proving you have paid all fees
  • The visa interview appointment letter
  • Your Form I-797 to prove that your petition has been approved
  • Proof of your eligibility for the R-1 visa:
    • Evidence that you have belonged to the religion for the past 2 years
    • Recommendation letters from other religious affiliations you have had
  • Contract with your US employer
  • Educational qualifications that prove you have the right to work in a religious position (such as a minister)
  • Proof of financial support or that the employer will compensate you

Attend the visa interview

Have the documents with you and be on time for your interview. The official will ask you questions about your background, your plans, and your purpose for visiting the US. You must give as much detail as possible to convince them that you will have employment and compensation in the US.

How long is the R-1 visa processing time?

It takes some time to get the R-1 visa approved. After the employer sends in the petition, it takes around 6 months for USCIS to respond, due to the fact that they might have to visit the premises of the organization. If USCIS has visited the organization before and approved them, then premium processing is available for an extra $1,225 fee. With premium processing, you will get a response on your visa in about 2 weeks.

If you do not have premium processing, after USCIS approves the petition, it might take another 2 to 3 months for the visa to process. So in total, the R-1 visa processing time could be 8 to 9 months without premium processing.

How long is the R-1 visa valid?

The initial period that your R-1 visa will be valid for is 30 months. During those 30 months you can stay and work in the US as a religious worker. Afterwards, you can apply for an extension and if approved, it will give you an additional 30 months in the US. USCIS will not give you any more extensions beyond 60 months. When you have stayed in the US for that maximum period of time, you can either return to your home country or seek permanent residence.

Can I get a Green Card with an R-1 visa?

You can get permanent residence if you have the R-1 visa. This can be done by usual methods of marriage, family, or changing your status to a dual intent visa such as the H-1B visa. However, other methods include applying for the EB-4 Green Card, which allows religious workers to get permanent residence in the US.

Can I bring my dependents with an R-1 visa?

Your spouse and unmarried children under 21 years old qualify as your dependents. They may accompany you to the US by applying for an R-2 visa. They can apply at the same time as you or after you have a valid R-1 visa. You must submit a valid marriage certificate and birth certificates to prove your relationship to them.

With an R-2 visa, your dependents can stay with you for as long as your R-1 visa is valid, and get a Green Card if you are approved for one. They may engage in part or full time studies, but are not allowed to work with the R-2 visa.

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