The R-1 visa is for an individual coming temporarily to the U.S. at the request of an organization to work as a minister or to work in a religious vocation or occupation. A minister is an individual who is fully authorized and trained to conduct religious worship according to the particular religious denomination.

A religious occupation is an activity that relates to a traditional religious function such as a cantor or a liturgical worker.  A religious vocation is associated with a formal, lifetime commitment to the religion as taken by a nun or a monk.

To be admitted as a religious worker, the individual must:

  • Be a member of a religious denomination with a bona fide nonprofit religious organization in the U.S. for at least two years immediately preceding the time of application;
  • Be coming to the U.S. to work at least in a part-time position;
  • Be coming to work as a minister or to perform a religious vocation or occupation;
  • Be coming to or remaining in the U.S. at the request of the petitioner to work for the petitioner;
  • Not work in the U.S. in any other capacity.

The petitioning organization must file an application with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to obtain an approval notice prior to the individual applying for a visa stamp at a U.S. embassy or consulate.  The R-1 visa is valid for a maximum of five years and the R-1 visa holder’s spouse and children are eligible to apply for R-2 dependent visas.  R-2 visa holders are not eligible to work in the U.S.  The R-1 visa may be issued for the full five-year duration, but the I-94 card that is received upon arrival to the U.S. may be limited to a shorter duration.  The date listed on the I-94 card is the date that controls the individual’s ability to remain in the U.S. and work legally in R-1 status.

Religious workers may qualify to apply for U.S. lawful permanent residence as a Special Immigrant Religious Worker. The criteria for application is nearly identical to the eligibility requirements for an R-1 non-immigrant classification except that the individual must have worked as a minister or in a religious vocation or occupation for at least the two-year period immediately preceding the filing of the lawful permanent residence application.