Religious Workers, Non-Immigrant Visa
The R-1 visa is a non-immigrant category for a religious worker to perform temporary services on behalf of a religious organization. The individual may be employed and compensated only by the religious organization through whom the status was obtained.
R-2 visa holders are immediate family dependents of R-1 visa holders. They are authorized to attend school but they may not legally obtain employment under the this non-immigrant category.
R-1 General Requirements
- An R-1 worker need not have performed any work on behalf of the religious denomination but must have been a member of the qualifying organization for the immediately preceding two years and must be qualified to perform the duties of a religious worker.
- Must be coming to the U.S. to work at least in a part-time position (average of at least 20 hours per week);
- There are three categories of religious workers:
- A minister, priest or rabbi, meaning an individual authorized to conduct religious worship;
- A religious professional, meaning an individual who has at least a baccalaureate degree which is needed to perform his duties (i.e. director of religious education or a principal of parochial school);
- A person who works in a religious occupation or vocation which relates to traditional religious functions, meaning the job needs to have religious significance (e.g. a religious instructor or a religious counselor).
- As per the current R-1 regulations (Nov. 26, 2008), a petition to the USCIS is always required for an R-1 worker. The applicant may no longer make the application directly to the US consulate, as the R-1 visa now requires prior USCIS approval.
- The period of admission will be for an initial period of thirty months, with maximum stay not to exceed five years.
- May work for more than one qualifying employer as long as each employer submits a petition
Spouses and children of the R-1 visa holder may obtain an R2 visa to enter and remain in the US. The R2 visa holder may attend school but if he or she wishes to work, he or she must change his or her status to obtain a work visa.
In summary, the R-1 visa category offers individuals with a religious background and others great opportunities to work and reside in the United States, but the religious occupation must relate to a traditional religious function.