Religious Worker Visas

13 March 2017

Religious Worker Visas

Religious worker visas are a great option for certain individuals.  Religious workers have two options when seeking entry to the United States to work in a religious capacity. An immigrant option and a non-immigrant option. Both options require the sponsorship of a bona-fide religious organization that has current IRS 501(c)(3) status.

The non-immigrant religious worker will be the beneficiary of an R1 – temporary religious worker visa. There are two types of beneficiaries for the R1 visa:

  1. A minister – someone who is fully trained to conduct religious worship, is not a lay person, performs activities rationally related to being a minister, and works solely as a minister in the U.S.
  2. A religious worker – someone who was a member of the denomination for the 2 years preceding the petition, and going to perform a religious vocation or occupation – both those performances have their own standard.

The R1 visa is limited to a five year maximum period of stay.  The initial stay is for 30 months and can be extended for another 30 months. The R1 beneficiary may work in a part-time capacity. Unfortunately, the spouse of a religious worker is unauthorized to accept employment while in the U.S.

The immigrant religious worker will be the beneficiary of an EB-4 Special Immigrant petition. The immigrant religious worker has the same options and requirements as the R1 visa with two major additions.

  1. The person must have been a member, and working as a minister or religious worker within the denomination, for the 2 years immediately preceding the filing of the petition.
  2. The person must be entering the U.S. to work full time in a compensated position.

The immigrant religious worker will receive a green card and can include spouses and children.

​Both visa options require defining and applying the different standards set forth for religious workers. The religious worker visas are subject to an immense amount of fraud. Therefore, USCIS policy has been to require a site visit for all new petitioners filing these types of petitions. Meaning USCIS will investigate to see the facility acts as the home for the religious service or worship. These are complex visa options available for the religious community – so please seek the advise of a competent immigration attorney before submitting your petitions.

Please read this religious worker success story to learn more.


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