What are the differences between the R-1 nonimmigrant visa and the immigrant religious worker visa?
Which organizations can sponsor a religious worker?
How much do I need to be paid?
Can I work in a second job in addition to my religious occupation?
How much time will I get on the R-1 visa?
What documents will I need?
What is the process for obtaining the visa?
How long will it take?
What about my family?
Religious worker visas are available to people coming to work for a religious organization in the United States as a minister, in a professional capacity, or in a religious vocation or occupation.
"Ministers" are individuals authorized by a recognized religious denomination to conduct religious worship and perform other duties normally performed by the clergy.
"Professional capacity" means that the position the individual will be working in requires at least a bachelor's degree.
A "religious occupation" is any activity which relates to a traditional religious function. Persons in a religious occupation include liturgical workers, religious instructors, missionaries, religious counselors, workers in religious hospitals or health facilities, cantors, catechists, or religious broadcasters, but not janitors, clerks, or persons involved solely in the solicitation of donations.
A "religious vocation" is a calling to religious life evidenced by the demonstration of a commitment practiced in the religious denomination, such as the taking of vows.
Time in the United States. The R-1 nonimmigrant visa is a temporary visa, with a maximum stay of five years. In contrast, obtaining permanent residence through the immigrant religious worker visa allows a person to live and work permanently in the United States.
Requirements. To obtain R-1 nonimmigrant status, the applicant must have been a member of the sponsoring organization's religious denomination for the two years immediately before the petition is filed. To obtain permanent residency, the applicant must have actually worked for two years in the capacity that he or she plans to work in the United States.
Because of this difference, it is common for religious workers to initially enter the United States on an R-1 visa and then apply for permanent residence two years later.
Any bona fide non-profit religious organization can sponsor a religious worker. The organization must be "closely associated" with the applicant's religious denomination. An interdenominational organization may sponsor a worker from any of its religious denominations.
"Non-profit" means that the organization is exempt from taxation under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code or would qualify for non-profit status if the organization applied for it with the Internal Revenue Service.
There is no set answer to this question. To qualify for the visa, the applicant must show that he or she will not become a public charge, that is, rely on assistance from the government. That means that the sponsoring organization must offer to cover all the applicant's expenses (as in a religious order, for example) or to compensate the applicant sufficiently.
Although there is no stated minimum salary for religious workers, my office generally recommends individuals receive compensation worth 125% of the federal poverty guidelines, or a little over $11,000 for one person.
R-1 status only allows you to work for the sponsoring organization; outside employment is not permitted. However, it is possible to have two or more organizations of the same denomination sponsor you for part-time work with each organization.
Once you obtain permanent residence, you can work outside of the sponsoring organization.
The initial period of time given for an R visa is normally three years, with a two-year extension possible, for a total of five years. This five-year period applies to both R-1 and R-2 (dependent family) status, even if you switch in the middle of your stay.
If you live outside the United States for one year, you regain the five-year maximum stay. Short trips to the U.S. during this time are OK, but they do not count towards the one-year absence.
It is possible to extend your stay beyond the five years by reclaiming time spent on trips outside of the United States, but you will need to document your entries and exits.
The sponsoring organization will need to provide proof of 501(c)(3) status and a letter supporting the visa petition.
The applicant should provide evidence of their membership in the religious denomination and proof of qualifications for the offered position (baccalaureate degree, certificate of ordination, etc.).
If filing the petition in the United States, all documents in a foreign language will need to be accompanied by a certified translation.
R-1 nonimmigrant status. If you are outside of the United States, you do not need to file a petition ahead of time. You simply take the supporting documents to a US consulate to apply for the visa.
If you are already in the United States on a different nonimmigrant visa, the sponsoring organization files a petition to change your status to R-1 religious worker and extend your stay.
Permanent residence. Whether you are in the United States or abroad, the sponsoring organization begins the process by filing the immigrant visa petition with an INS service center. Once the petition is approved, you file an application for permanent residence with the INS, if in the United States, or, if abroad, apply for an immigrant visa with a US consulate. You become a permanent resident once you enter the United States with the immigrant visa.
R-1 nonimmigrant status. US consulates are normally able to issue an R-1 visa in a matter of days, while it takes much longer for the INS to adjudicate the petitions in the United States, usually 2-3 months or longer. It is possible to have the petition decided in 2 weeks through premium processing, for an extra fee.
Permanent residence. Expect the immigrant visa petition to take 6 months or more.
Once the petition is approved, consular processing normally takes 2-3 months. If you are in the United states, the application for permanent residence for people in the United States may take over a year depending on where it is filed, but during this time you can travel and work with INS permission.
If you are out of status (i.e., you have overstayed your visa or you entered without one), in most cases you cannot change status to R-1 religious worker or adjust status to permanent resident. You may be successful by returning to your country to apply for the religious worker visa, but there are serious penalties for staying in the United States illegally. It's recommended to speak to a lawyer before choosing this course of action.
If you were the beneficiary of an immigrant visa petition (I-130 or I-140) or labor certification before April 30, 2001, you may be able to adjust status to permanent residence under section 245(i).
R-1 nonimmigrant status. Your spouse and children under 21 may live--but not work--in the United States on R-2 status. Family members apply for an R-2 visa at a US consulate or file a separate petition to change their status if in the United States.
Permanent residence. Your spouse and children under 21 are included in the immigrant visa petition, so that they are eligible to apply for permanent residence once the petition is approved. In addition, your family members in the United States are eligible for work authorization while the applications for permanent residence are pending.