An R-1 is a foreign national who is coming to the United States temporarily to be employed as a minister or in another religious vocation or occupation at least part time (average of at least 20 hours per week) by:
This visa program is intended for religious workers whose lives are dedicated to religious practices and functions, as distinguished from secular members of the religion.
To qualify, the foreign national must have been a member of a religious denomination having a bona fide non-profit religious organization in the United States for at least two years immediately before the filing of the petition.
Religious occupations are defined as occupations whose duties must:
Religious occupations do not include primarily administrative or support positions such as janitors, maintenance workers, clerical employees, or fund-raisers or similar positions solely involved in soliciting donations. Limited administrative duties that are only incidental to religious functions are permissible.
Religious study or training for religious work does not constitute a religious occupation, but a religious worker may pursue study or training incidental to R-1 status.
Ministers are defined as individuals who are duly authorized by the religious denomination to which they belong, and are fully trained according to the denomination’s standards to conduct religious worship and other duties usually performed by the clergy. The regulations do not define a uniform type of training for religious denominations. When signing the petition, the petitioner must attest that the beneficiary is qualified to perform the proposed duties of the religious occupation to be performed in the United States.
The definition of denominational membership is premised on a shared faith and worship practices, and not on formal affiliation. Denominational membership means membership during at least the two-year period immediately preceding the filing date of the petition, in the same type of religious denomination as the U.S. religious organization where the beneficiary will work. (See 8 CFR 214.2(r)(3) emphasis added).
The term “religious denomination” applies to a religious group or community of believers governed or administered under a common type of ecclesiastical government. A religious group or community of believers may demonstrate that they are a religious denomination by showing one or more of the following:
USCIS acknowledges that some denominations lack an ecclesiastical government or central governing body. The religious entity may seek to satisfy the religious denomination requirement by submitting a description of its own internal governing or organizational structure.
A prospective or existing U.S. employer must file Form I-129, Petition for Non immigrant Worker, on behalf of foreign nationals seeking to enter the United States as a non immigrant minister, or a religious worker in a religious vocation or occupation. An R-1 visa cannot be issued at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate abroad without prior USCIS approval of Form I-129. This process allows USCIS to review the petition to determine whether the petitioning organization and the beneficiary have met their respective eligibility requirements for this non immigrant classification. Upon approval of the petition, the consular post then determines whether the foreign national is eligible to receive the R-1 non immigrant visa. As with all individuals who appear at ports of entry, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) determines whether the beneficiary may be admitted to the United States. Visa exempt workers must present the original Form I-797, Notice of Action, at a port of entry as evidence of an approved Form I-129 R petition.
Along with Form I-129, the petitioner must include evidence of eligibility for the classification sought. Both the petitioning organization and the religious worker must satisfy certain requirements, which are discussed below.
If a petitioner believes that one of these requirements substantially burdens the organization’s exercise of religion, it may seek an exemption under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). A written request for the exemption should accompany the initial filing, and it must explain how the provision:
The petitioner must support the request with relevant documentation. USCIS will decide exemption requests on a case-by-case basis, and notes that the petitioner bears the burden of showing that it qualifies for a RFRA exemption.
Please remember to provide a duplicate copy of the Form I-129 and all supporting documents. Failure to submit a duplicate copy to USCIS may result in a delay in the issuance of a non immigrant visa abroad from the U.S. Department of State.
This chart outlines the evidence that must be submitted to establish eligibility to file Form I-129 for an R-1 non immigrant.
|If the petitioner is claiming tax exemption as:||Then provide evidence of:|
|A bona fide non-profit religious organization and has its own individual Internal Revenue Service (IRS) 501(c)(3) letter||A currently valid determination letter* from the IRS showing that the organization is tax-exempt|
|A bona fide non-profit religious organization that is recognized as tax-exempt under a group tax exemption.Note: Where the petitioning entity falls within the umbrella of a parent organization, the parent organization may generally designate the petitioning entity to use its tax exempt status. The petitioning entity, in turn, may generally place the minister in an entity in its jurisdiction.||(a) A currently valid determination letter* from the IRS establishing that the group is tax-exempt (8 CFR §214.2(r)(9)(iii) and (b) group ruling that the group is tax exempt.|
|A bona fide organization that is affiliated with the religious denomination and was granted tax-exempt status under section 501(c)(3), or subsequent amendment or equivalent sections of prior enactments of the Internal Revenue Code, as something other than a religious organization. Note: Petitioning organizations that are not classified as “religious organizations” by the Internal Revenue Service may establish that they are affiliated with a religious denomination by completing the Religious Denomination Certification in the revised Form I-129. The determination letter must be valid and cover the petitioning organization at the time of filing of the Form I-129 R-1 petition.||(a) A currently valid determination letter* from the IRS establishing that the organization is tax-exempt; (b) documentation establishing the religious nature and purpose of the organization; (c) organizational literature describing the religious purpose and nature of the activities of the organization; and (d) A religious denomination certification stating that the petitioning organization is affiliated with the religious denomination.**|
*A valid determination letter includes those issued before the effective date of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 and also those which may be issued under future Internal Revenue Code revisions.
**The religious denomination certification should be signed by an organization other than the petitioning organization, and attest that the petitioning organization is part of the same religious denomination as the attesting organization.
The authorized representative of the attesting religious denomination should sign the Religious Denomination Certification. USCIS will issue a Request for Evidence (RFE) if the petitioner or someone other than the authorized representative of the attesting religious denomination signs the certification.
In addition to the above, the petitioning organization must also provide:
Religious workers generally must be compensated. Compensation may include either salaried or non-salaried compensation. The religious organization must show how the religious worker (non immigrant or immigrant) will be supported in the United States. USCIS may consider evidence of self-support only for certain non immigrant missionaries. For temporary, non immigrant religious workers entering in the R-1 category, if self-support is claimed, the petitioner must submit verifiable evidence that he or she is participating in an established program for temporary, uncompensated missionary work within the petitioning organization. The program must be part of a broader, international program of missionary work sponsored by the denomination. For more information about self-support, see 8 CFR 214.2(11)(ii).
Please note that in all cases, 8 CFR 214.2(r)(13) requires religious workers to be compensated by the religious organization that petitioned for that worker.
Evidence showing how the organization will compensate the religious worker, including specific monetary or in-kind compensation, may include:
If available, IRS documents such as the religious worker’s Form W-2 or certified tax returns must be provided. If the documents are not available, explain why not and provide comparable, verifiable documentation.
You must also provide evidence that the beneficiary is eligible to be an R-1 non immigrant. You must include:
Provide evidence that the religious worker is a member of a religious denomination having a bona fide non-profit religious organization in the United States for at least two years immediately before the filing of Form I-129.
If the religious worker received salaried compensation, provide IRS documents that show he or she received a salary. This may include, but is not limited to, Form W-2 or certified copies of filed income tax returns reflecting such work and compensation for the previous R-1 employment
If the religious worker received non-salaried compensation:
If the religious worker will be working as a minister, you will need to provide:
If the religious worker received no salary but supported himself or herself and any dependents, provide verifiable documents to show how support was maintained. Such documents may include, but are not limited to, audited financial statements, financial institution records, brokerage account statements or trust documents signed by an attorney.
Under the regulations at 8 CFR 214.2(r)(16), USCIS may conduct a pre-approval inspection in any case. If USCIS decides to conduct a pre-approval inspection, satisfactory completion of the inspection will be a condition for approval of any petition.
A physical address where constituents generally congregate to worship must be provided in order for USCIS to conduct a pre-approval site inspection, even if that address is not the same as the mailing address. During a site inspection, USCIS must verify that the place of worship/congregation actually exists.
In addition, a post-adjudication inspection may be completed on the beneficiary’s work location to verify the beneficiary’s work hours, compensation and duties. A post-adjudication inspection may also be conducted in cases of suspected fraud or where the petitioning entity has undergone substantial changes since its last filing. USCIS closely monitors the site visit program to ensure that it does not cause substantial delays in the adjudication process.
USCIS may grant R-1 status for an initial period of admission for up to 30 months. Subsequent extensions may be granted for up to an additional 30 months. The religious worker’s total period of stay in the United States in R-1 classification cannot exceed five years (60 months). USCIS counts only time spent physically in the United States in valid R-1 status toward the maximum period of stay. See PM-602-0057, Procedures for Calculating the Maximum Period of Stay for R-1 Nonimmigrants (PDF, 70 KB) for details.
Should the foreign national obtain an I-94 Admission and Departure Record from CBP with an initial period of admission beyond the regulatory maximum of 30 months, the error should be corrected by bringing it to the attention of the port of entry that issued the I-94 or the Deferred Inspection Office of CBP. Neither the petitioning prospective employer nor the foreign national will be penalized for the error. However, such an error may affect the foreign national’s future immigration benefits if he or she exceeds the statutory maximum of five years. Do not use Form I-102, Application for Replacement/Initial Non immigrant Arrival-Departure Document, to request that USCIS correct a CBP error on Form I-94. USCIS cannot correct the form I-94. Please visit www.cbp.gov for information on correcting Form I-94 issued by CBP.
If an R-1 non immigrant’s I-94 lists an initial period of admission longer than 30 months, however, such non immigrants may request an extension of status prior to the end of that 30 month period of admission.
Before applying for a new non immigrant R-1 visa (a new five-year maximum stay), the individual must have lived outside the United States for at least one year. These time limitations do not apply to religious workers who did not reside continuously in the United States and whose employment in the United States was seasonal, intermittent or for an aggregate of six months or less per year. The limitations also do not apply to religious workers who reside abroad and commute to the United States to work part time.
Non immigrant religious workers must maintain the intent to depart the United States when their non immigrant stay expires. At the same time, USCIS may not deny a non immigrant petition, application for initial admission, change of status, or extension of stay in R classification solely on the basis of a filed or an approved permanent labor certification application or a filed or approved immigrant visa petition.
An R-1 religious worker’s spouse and unmarried children under the age of 21 may be eligible for R-2 classification. An R-2 dependent is not authorized to accept employment based on this visa classification.
Members of religious denominations seeking temporary admission to the United States for brief periods may be eligible to be admitted as B-1 business visitors if their activities are allowed under the B-1 non immigrant visitor category. (See 8 CFR 214.2(b)(1)) Additionally, missionaries who do not otherwise qualify for R-1 non immigrant religious worker classification may be allowed to enter the United States as B-1 business visitors. The Department of State governs the issuance of visas. For more information about the B-1 visa category and permitted B-1 activities, please refer to the Foreign Affairs Manual at 9 FAM 41.31 N9.1-4.
The petitioner must notify USCIS within 14 days of any change in the non immigrant religious worker’s employment. The petitioner must also notify USCIS when the employment is terminated. In order for the religious worker to change employers, the new petitioner must file a new Form I-129, attestation and supporting evidence.
Petitioners must also notify USCIS of any R-1 employment terminations. Please contact USCIS at one of the following addresses:
|Mailing||:||U.S. Department of Homeland Security U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services California Service Center Attn: BCU Section Chief P.O. Box 30050 Laguna Niguel, CA 92607-3004|
Changes in location of employment may constitute material changes to the terms and conditions of employment as specified in the original approved R-1 petition. If there is a material change in the terms or conditions of employment (or the beneficiary’s eligibility), the petitioner may be required to file an amended petition and receive an approval prior to the beneficiary’s move to a location of employment other than that listed on the original approved R-1 petition.
Ministers, as opposed to other religious workers, may move from ministry to ministry within a denomination without a new petition, so long as the parent organization is the petitioner. If it is anticipated that the minister will be moved between different locations within the same denomination, the parent organization should file as the petitioner rather than the individual organization, and list each ministry where the minister will be working on the I-129. In such cases, USCIS requires the group tax determination letter issued to the parent organization, along with authorization from the group tax exemption holder that lists each specific ministry that may employ the beneficiary.
An amended petition can be filed, with fee, by checking box f under item 2 in Part 2 of Form I-129.
For information about petitioning for lawful permanent residency for a religious worker, see the “Employment-Based Immigration: Fourth Preference EB-4.”
Intuitive, insightful, assiduous, sedulous, diligent and meticulously commited to the success of our clients.
Mr. Wani is an eminent and a singularly distinguished attorney with over thirty years of extensive legal experience. His remarkable scholarship, comprehensive understanding of the law, coupled with his genuine, and veritable concern for the welfare of our clients, makes him an extremely rare and atypical find.