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Temporary Religious Worker (R-1)

Temporary Religious Worker (R-1): The R-1 nonimmigrant visa allows an individual to enter the United States to perform temporary services as either a minister or religious worker. A bona fide religious denomination must petition on behalf of the member/religious worker.

General Requirements:

  • Ministers must be fully authorized and trained to conduct religious services in the denomination and seeking entrance solely to work as a minister in the United States. The employment must at least be part-time (20 hours per week). Ministers must produce evidence of their qualifications, usually a certificate of ordination, documents relating to completion of a theological program, or other evidence that the minister meets the particular qualifications provided for by the denomination.
  • Religious workers must be a member of the religious denomination for at least the two year period immediately preceding the petition, must be seeking entrance to work at least part time, and must work in a primarily religious occupation or vocation. Religious occupations do not include positions that are primarily administrative or support such as janitors, maintenance workers, clerical employees, fundraisers, etc. However, administrative duties ancillary to the primary religious occupation are acceptable.
  • A religious denomination is defined as a group or community of believers that is governed or administered under a common type of ecclesiastical government and includes one or more of the following: (1) common form of worship; (2) common doctrine; (3) common services; (4) common established place of worship; or (5) comparable indicia.
  • The petitioning religious organization must demonstrate tax-exempt status via an official IRS letter, as well as provide evidence that the organization is bona fide and attest that both the religious denomination and minister or religious worker meets all requirements for R-1 issuance.
  • The petitioning organization must provide evidence of whether the position is salaried or non-salaried. If salaried, the petitioner must produce evidence showing that the organization has the financial ability to pay the minister or religious worker. If unsalaried, the beneficiary must produce evidence showing the individual is self-supporting (non-compensated, self-supporting positions are closely scrutinized by USCIS to prevent fraud).
  • R-1 visa holders must have nonimmigrant intent, i.e.; to depart foreign at the conclusion of their temporary employment in the U.S. The R-1 visa may not be denied based solely on an approved IV petition.
  • The R-1 must only work as a minister or religious worker, but may work for multiple qualifying employers so long as each files a petition.

Derivative Benefits and Time Limits:

  • The spouse and unmarried children under the age of 21 may accompany the principal R-1 visa holder to the United States in R-2 status. However, R-2's may not accept employment.
  • R-1's are initially admitted for 30 months, and an extension of status petition may be filed for an additional thirty months. Thus, the maximum time allotted for R-1 status is 5 years. However, days physically spent outside of the United States do not count towards the 5 year cap and may be recaptured. Further, if the individual does not reside continuously in the United States and works only seasonally, intermittently, or less than six months per year, there is no cap, and the individual may continue to extend status. The same rules apply for R-2's.


  • A religious denomination must petition on behalf of the minister or religious worker, file an attestation, and produce necessary supporting documents. USCIS conducts site inspections of R-1 petitioners to ensure that the religious denomination is legitimate.
  • Expedited processing for R-1 petitions is only available if USCIS has previously conducted a site inspection.
  • The petitioning religious organization must notify USCIS if the R-1 is working less than part-time or has been released or terminated within 14 days.

Example: A Baptist church petitions on behalf of an ordained Baptist pastor from Mexico in order to lead the church's Hispanic ministry outreach program. After producing all of the necessary supporting documentation regarding the pastor's qualifications, church's tax exempt status and bona fide nature of the Church, USCIS approves the petition after conducting a site visit.

Contact David F. Vedder, P.A.

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