R - Religious Worker Visa

Religious workers may qualify for the religious worker classification R visa if, for the two years immediately preceding the time of application, they have been a member of a religious denomination which has a bona fide nonprofit religious organization in the United States. Bona fide religious organizations in the United States must have tax exempt status as an organization described in section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986.  Examples of qualified R-1 religious workers might include rabbis, cantors, ministers, or religious instructors.  

Qualifying for an R Visa 

In order to qualify for an R visa, you must meet the following requirements:

  • You must have been a member of the religious domination you will work with for at least two years before applying for an R visa;
  • The organization you plan to work for must be non-for-profit and have tax exempt status (they can provide you with a letter proving tax exemption;
  • You must plan to work in a professional capacity in a religious vocation.

A job qualifying as a “religious vocation” includes ministers of religion who are authorized by a recognized denomination to conduct religious worship and perform other duties usually performed by members of the clergy.  A religious vocation means a calling to religious life, evidenced by the demonstration of a lifelong commitment.  Jobs qualifying for R-1 visas include those who will be actively involved in the religious functioning of the organization.  It does not include janitors, maintenance workers, clerks, fund raisers, solicitors of donations, or similar occupations. The activity of an R-1 applicant must relate to a traditional religious function: it must embody the tenets of the religion and have religious significance, relating primarily, if not exclusively, to matters of the spirit as they apply to the religion.

In order to be considered as a nonimmigrant under the above classification, the applicant's prospective employer must file a Form I-129, Petition for Nonimmigrant Alien Worker, with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). For more detailed information regarding the filing of Form I-129, as well as requirements, please refer to the USCIS Temporary Workers

Qualified R-1 applicants will receive a visa valid for three years and can renew their status after that period expires.  However, you may not remain in the United States on an R visa for more than five years.  

Approved R-1 Petitions 

If an R petition has been approved by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) and you are currently in the U.S., you may apply for a change of status in the U.S.

However, if you leave the U.S., you will have to apply for a visa in order to reenter the United States as an R-1 religious worker.  You should bring the I-797 approval notice to the interview, but please keep in mind that an approved petition is not a guarantee that you will receive a visa.  Please bring as much supporting documentation as possible to prove your eligibility for an R-1 visa.

Families of R Visa Holders

Spouses and/or children under the age of 21 who wish to accompany or join the principal visa holder in the United States for the duration of his/her stay require derivative R-2 visas. Spouses and/or children who do not intend to reside in the United States with the principal visa holder, but visit for vacations only, may be eligible to apply for visitor (B-2) visas.

Spouses and children of R visa holders may study in private or public schools in the United States on an R-2 visa without obtaining a student F-1 visa.  However, spouses on R-2 visas may not work.  If a spouse on an R-2 visa is seeking employment, he or she must seek the appropriate work visa to do so.  As the principal R-1 visa applicant, you must prove that you can support your family financially during your stay in the U.S.  

Before the Interview  

Once you have received notice that your I-129 petition for an R-1 visa has been approved you are ready for your interview.  Be sure any information that demonstrates your qualifications for the work you intend to perform in the United States. For more information and instructions on how to apply for the visa and what you need to bring with you to the interview please clickhere. We advise you also bring a copy of your I-797 Notice of Action confirming your R-1 status approval.  

At the Interview 

At the visa interview, the consular officer will ask you to present all your documents and passport and will ask about the work you intend to perform in the United States and your qualifications.  Please be prepared to answer these questions honestly and thoroughly, and the consular officer in turn will make the decision about your eligibility based on your answers and the documents you present. 

Sometimes it may be necessary for the consular officer to take a few days to review the details of your application and supporting documents.  If this is the case, the officer will return your passport to you and the Embassy will call you as soon as possible for further questions or to issue your visa.​