Visas for Religious Workers (R)
Effective immediately, the Department of Homeland Security requires that sponsoring employers for religious workers must file I-129 petitions for all aliens whom R nonimmigrant visa status is sought. Self-petitions will not be accepted. No R visa will be issued to an alien who is not a beneficiary of an approved I-129 petition.
Definition of Religious Workers
Religious workers include ministers of religion who are authorized by a recognized denomination to conduct religious worship and perform other duties usually performed by members of the clergy such as administering the sacraments, or their equivalent. The term does not apply to lay preachers. A religious vocation means a calling to religious life, evidence by the demonstration of a lifelong commitment, such as taking vows. Examples include nuns, monks, and religious brothers and sisters. A religious occupation means a habitual engagement in an activity that relates to a traditional religious function. Examples include liturgical workers, religious instructors or cantors, catechists, workers in religious hospitals, missionaries, religious translators, or religious broadcasters. It does not include janitors, maintenance workers, clerks, fundraisers, solicitors of donations, or similar occupations. The activity of a layperson who will be engaged in a religious occupation must relate to a traditional religious function; i.e., the activity must embody the tenets of the religion and have religious significance relating primarily, if not exclusively, to matters of the spirit as they apply to religion.
The applicant must be a member of a religious denomination having a bona fide nonprofit religious organization in the United States;
The religious denomination and its affiliate, if applicable, are exempt from taxation, or the religious denomination qualifies for tax-exempt status;
The applicant has been a member of the denomination for two years immediately preceding admission;
The applicant is entering the United States solely to carry on the vocation of a minister of that denomination, or, at the request of the organization, the applicant is entering the United States to work in a religious vocation or occupation for the denomination or for an organization affiliated with the denomination, whether in a professional capacity or not; and,
The applicant has resided and been physically present outside the United States for the immediate prior year if he or she has previously spent five years in this classification.
The spouse and unmarried children under 21 years old of the R-1 visa holder may be given an R-2 visa if they seek to accompany or "follow to join" the primary visa holder.
How To Apply
To apply, please check the Nonimmigrant Visa Application Procedures page. In addition to the basic documentary requirements, the applicant must submit/comply with the following additional documentary requirements:
For Principal Applicant
- Copy of Form I-129 (Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker)
- IRS-supplied proof of the tax-exempt status of the religious organization in the United States (U.S. Department of State revenue forms are not acceptable).
- Proof that the applicant has been a member of the religious organization for at least two years prior to his/her application.
- Evidence that the applicant is qualified for the work designated in the United States.
- For members of the Catholic clergy or orders, it is also recommended that a certification from the diocese signed by the Bishop stating that the applicant is authorized to serve in a particular diocese as a priest, or a certification from the head of the sisterhood or brotherhood, or at least its chapter, stating that the applicant is authorized to work as a nun or a priest.
- Documents showing arrangements for financial support.
- A letter from an authorized official of the specific unit of the employing organization certifying that:
a) If the applicant's religious membership was maintained, in whole or in part, outside the United States, the foreign and U.S. religious organizations belong to the same religious denomination;
b) Immediately prior to the application for the R visa, the alien has been a member of the religious denomination for the required two-year period;
c) As appropriate:
- If the applicant is a minister, he or she is authorized to conduct religious worship for that denomination. The duties should be described in detail; or
- If the applicant is a religious professional, he or she has at least a baccalaureate degree or equivalent, and that such a degree is required for entry into the religious profession; or
- If the applicant is to work in a nonprofessional vocation or occupation, he or she is qualified if the type of work to be done relates to a traditional religious function;
d) The arrangements for remuneration, including the amount and source of salary, other types of compensation such as room and board, and any other benefits to which a monetary value may be affixed, and a statement whether such remuneration shall be in exchange for services rendered;
e) The name and location of the specific organizational unit of the religious denomination or affiliate for which the applicant will be providing services; and,
f) If the alien is to work for an organization which is affiliated with a religious denomination, a description of the nature of the relationship between the two organizations including evidence of the religious organization's assets and methods of operation and the organization's papers of incorporation under applicable state law.
Documents showing arrangements for financial support
Copy of principal’s nonimmigrant R-1 visa
- In some cases, additional documents may be requested.
- All documents must be originals. Photocopies will not be accepted, unless specified. The applicant must submit these documents to the interviewing consular officer during the interview. The Nonimmigrant Visa Unit does not accept documents before the interview. Any documents received will not be returned and will be destroyed. Please note, however, that presentation of the documents will not guarantee visa issuance. Applicants must still qualify under INA Section 214(b).
Please feel free to visit the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) page additional information.
Last Update :: 01/27/2010
Nonimmigrant Visa Unit (NIV) is open for business Monday through Friday, from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., except on U.S. and Philippine Holidays.