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Work Visas for Religious Workers

In addition to the more traditional visas available to foreign nationals looking to come to the United States for work, there are a number of non-immigrant visas that are available for specific professions. One such visa is the R-1 visa for religious workers.

The R-1 visa allows foreign nationals to come to the United States as religious workers to perform duties as a minister of religion, or in a religious occupation or vocation in professional or non-professional capacity. In order to be classified within one of the three categories, there are specific requirements that need to be met:

  • For a minister, you will have to demonstrate that you are fully authorized and trained in a religious denomination to conduct religious worship and perform other duties performed by clergy. You will have to provide evidence of ordination and theological education.
  • For non-minister religious workers that are coming to perform religious vocation, you will have to show that you have undertaken a lifetime commitment through vows, investitures, ceremonies, or similar indicia to a religious way of life, for example nuns, monks, or religious brothers and sisters.
  • For non-minister religious workers that are coming to perform religious occupation, you have to show that the duties to be performed are connected to traditional religious functions, are recognized as a religious function within the denomination, and involve the teaching and instilling in others or carrying out the religious creed of the denomination.

In addition, if you are non-minister worker coming to perform duties in a religious occupation or vocation, you will have to demonstrate that you have been a member of the religious denomination for at least two years immediately preceding the filing of the petition.

Furthermore, the work performed has to fall within the above-discussed duties of ministers or non-minister workers and cannot be in positions that are primarily administrative or support, though the work can include the occasional incidental administrative duties. In addition, while as a R-1 visa holder you are not barred from pursuing further religious studying or training, the R-1 visa cannot be used for foreign individuals to come solely for religious studies and/or training, i.e. religious students.

You cannot self-petition for an R-1 visa. You will need a petitioning employer who is either:

  • A bona fide non-profit religious organization in the United States; or
  • A bona fide non-profit organization affiliated with a religious denomination in the US. A religious denomination is defined as a group or a community of believers that is governed or administered by a common type of ecclesiastical government and includes at least, either a common form of worship, a common doctrine, common services, or a common established place of worship.

The R-1 status does not require full-time work, but the petitioner has to demonstrate and the R-1 religious worker has to actually perform at least 20 hours of work per week. Notably, the R-1 visa does not limit you to only one employer, and you can perform religious work for multiple entities, if each of them files a petition. If, while in R-1 status, you work in other capacity or in a religious capacity for an entity that has not filed a petition, you would be out of status and in violation of the terms of your visa.

R-1 petition is approved for an initial period of 30 months and can be extended for another 30 months for a total of 5 years. Importantly, when applying for R-1 visa, you have to demonstrate that you have been physically outside the United States for at least one year, immediately preceding the petition. This requirement does not apply to religious workers who did not reside in the US continuously and who were employed seasonally, intermittently, or for less than six months a year; and to those who resided abroad and only commuted to the US on a part-time basis.

Spouses and children of religious workers are allowed to join on a R-2 status, but are not eligible to work while in the US. Moreover, because the R-1 visa is a dual intent visa, you can pursue other visa options, including immigrant visa options while in R-1 status.

Hiring a California Immigration Attorney

For a more detailed information or questions about the R-1 visa and the process, or any other type of non-immigrant work visas, or change of status, please contact The Justice Firm locally at 310-914-2444 or our Toll-Free number at 866-695-6714, or visit us on our website. Our immigration attorneys serve clients in Los Angeles, Riverside, Orange, Ventura, and San Bernardino counties.

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