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"R" Visa
Temporary Religious Workers

Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) 101(a)(15)(R) provides a nonimmigrant visa category "R" for individuals seeking to enter the United States to work in a religious capacity on a temporary basis. This paragraph governs classification of an alien as a nonimmigrant religious worker (R-1).

  • To be approved for temporary admission to the United States, or extension and maintenance of status, for the purpose of conducting the activities of a religious worker for a period not to exceed five years, an alien must:
    • Be a member of a religious denomination having a bona fide non-profit religious organization in the United States for at least two years immediately preceding the time of application for admission;
    • Be coming to the United States to work at least in a part time position (average of at least 20 hours per week);
    • Be coming solely as a minister or to perform a religious vocation or occupation (in either a professional or nonprofessional capacity);
    • Be coming to or remaining in the United States at the request of the petitioner to work for the petitioner; and
    • Not work in the United States in any other capacity, except in certain situations. An alien may work for more than one qualifying employer as long as each qualifying employer submits a petition plus all additional required documentation as prescribed by USCIS regulations.
  • Bona fide non-profit religious organization:
    Bona fide non-profit religious organization in the United States means a religious organization exempt from taxation as described in section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, subsequent amendment or equivalent sections of prior enactments of the Internal Revenue Code, and possessing a currently valid determination letter from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) confirming such exemption.
  • Bona fide organization affiliated with the religious denomination:
    Bona fide organization which is affiliated with the religious denomination means an organization which is closely associated with the religious denomination and which is exempt from taxation as described in section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, or subsequent amendment or equivalent sections of prior enactments of the Internal Revenue Code, and possessing a currently valid determination letter from the IRS confirming such exemption.
  • Denominational membership:
    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 United States religious organization where the alien will work.
  • Minister:
    Minister means an individual who:
    • Is fully authorized by a religious denomination, and fully trained according to the denomination’s standards, to conduct religious worship and perform other duties usually performed by authorized members of the clergy of that denomination;
    • Is not a lay preacher or a person not authorized to perform duties usually performed by clergy;
    • Performs activities with a rational relationship to the religious calling of the minister; and
    • Works solely as a minister in the United States which may include administrative duties incidental to the duties of a minister.
  • Petition:
    Petition means USCIS Form I-129 , Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, a successor form, or any other form as may be prescribed by USCIS, along with a supplement containing attestations required by this section, the fee specified in 8 CFR 103.7(b)(1) , and supporting evidence required by this part.
  • Religious denomination:
    Religious denomination means a religious 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:
    • A recognized common creed or statement of faith shared among the denomination’s members;
    • A common form of worship;
    • A common formal code of doctrine and discipline;
    • Common religious services and ceremonies;
    • Common established places of religious worship or religious congregations; or
    • Comparable indicia of a bona fide religious denomination.
  • Religious occupation:
    Religious occupation means an occupation that meets all of the following requirements:
    • The duties must primarily relate to a traditional religious function and be recognized as a religious occupation within the denomination;
    • The duties must be primarily related to, and must clearly involve, inculcating or carrying out the religious creed and beliefs of the denomination;
    • The duties do not include positions which are primarily administrative or support such as janitors, maintenance workers, clerical employees, fund raisers, persons solely involved in the solicitation of donations, or similar positions, although limited administrative duties that are only incidental to religious functions are permissible; and
    • Religious study or training for religious work does not constitute a religious occupation, but a religious worker may pursue study or training incident to status.
  • Religious vocation:
    Religious vocation means a formal lifetime commitment, through vows, investitures, ceremonies, or similar indicia, to a religious way of life. The religious denomination must have a class of individuals whose lives are dedicated to religious practices and functions, as distinguished from the secular members of the religion. Examples of vocations include nuns, monks, and religious brothers and sisters.
  • Religious worker:
    Religious worker means an individual engaged in and, according to the denomination’s standards, qualified for a religious occupation or vocation, whether or not in a professional capacity, or as a minister.
  • Tax-exempt organization:
    Tax-exempt organization means an organization that has received a determination letter from the IRS establishing that it, or a group it belongs to, is exempt from taxation in accordance with sections 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, or subsequent amendments or equivalent sections of prior enactments of the Internal Revenue Code.
Evidence Requirements for Petitioning Organization

A petition shall include the following initial evidence relating to the petitioning organization:

  • A currently valid determination letter from the IRS showing that the organization is a tax-exempt organization; or
  • For a religious organization that is recognized as tax-exempt under a group tax-exemption, a currently valid determination letter from the IRS establishing that the group is tax-exempt; or
  • For a bona fide organization that is affiliated with the religious denomination, if the organization 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:
    • A currently valid determination letter from the IRS establishing that the organization is a tax-exempt organization;
    • Documentation that establishes the religious nature and purpose of the organization, such as a copy of the organizing instrument of the organization that specifies the purposes of the organization;
    • Organizational literature, such as books, articles, brochures, calendars, flyers, and other literature describing the religious purpose and nature of the activities of the organization; and
    • A religious denomination certification. The religious organization must complete, sign and date a statement certifying that the petitioning organization is affiliated with the religious denomination. The statement must be submitted by the petitioner along with the petition.
Evidence required for qualifications of a minister

If the alien is a minister, the petitioner must submit the following:

  • A copy of the alien’s certificate of ordination or similar documents reflecting acceptance of the alien’s qualifications as a minister in the religious denomination; and
  • Documents reflecting acceptance of the alien’s qualifications as a minister in the religious denomination, as well as evidence that the alien has completed any course of prescribed theological education at an accredited theological institution normally required or recognized by that religious denomination, including transcripts, curriculum, and documentation that establishes that the theological education is accredited by the denomination, or
  • For denominations that do not require a prescribed theological education, evidence of:
    • The denomination’s requirements for ordination to minister;
    • The duties allowed to be performed by virtue of ordination;
    • The denomination’s levels of ordination, if any; and
    • The alien’s completion of the denomination’s requirements for ordination.
Evidence requirement for compensation

. Initial evidence must state how the petitioner intends to compensate the alien, including specific monetary or in-kind compensation, or whether the alien intends to be self-supporting. In either case, the petitioner must submit verifiable evidence explaining how the petitioner will compensate the alien or how the alien will be self-supporting. Compensation may include:

  • Salaried or non-salaried compensation:
    Evidence of compensation may include past evidence of compensation for similar positions; budgets showing monies set aside for salaries, leases, etc.; verifiable documentation that room and board will be provided; or other evidence acceptable to USCIS. IRS documentation, such as IRS Form W-2 or certified tax returns, must be submitted, if available. If IRS documentation is unavailable, the petitioner must submit an explanation for the absence of IRS documentation, along with comparable, verifiable documentation.
  • Self Support:
    • If the alien will be self-supporting, the petitioner must submit documentation establishing that the position the alien will hold is part of an established program for temporary, uncompensated missionary work, which is part of a broader international program of missionary work sponsored by the denomination.
    • An established program for temporary, uncompensated work is defined to be a missionary program in which:
      • Foreign workers, whether compensated or uncompensated, have previously participated in R-1 status;
      • Missionary workers are traditionally uncompensated;
      • The organization provides formal training for missionaries; and
      • Participation in such missionary work is an established element of religious development in that denomination.
    • The petitioner must submit evidence demonstrating:
      • That the organization has an established program for temporary, uncompensated missionary work;
      • That the denomination maintains missionary programs both in the United states and abroad;
      • The religious worker’s acceptance into the missionary program;
      • The religious duties and responsibilities associated with the traditionally uncompensated missionary work; and
      • Copies of the alien’s bank records, budgets documenting the sources of self-support (including personal or family savings, room and board with host families in the United States, donations from the denomination’s churches), or other verifiable evidence acceptable to USCIS.
Evidence of previous R-1 Employment

Any request for an extension of stay as an R-1 must include initial evidence of the previous R-1 employment. If the beneficiary:

  • Received salaried compensation, the petitioner must submit IRS documentation that the alien received a salary, such as an IRS Form W-2 or certified copies of filed income tax returns, reflecting such work and compensation for the preceding two years.
  • Received non-salaried compensation, the petitioner must submit IRS documentation of the non-salaried compensation if available. If IRS documentation is unavailable, an explanation for the absence of IRS documentation must be provided, and the petitioner must provide verifiable evidence of all financial support, including stipends, room and board, or other support for the beneficiary by submitting a description of the location where the beneficiary lived, a lease to establish where the beneficiary lived, or other evidence acceptable to USCIS.
  • Received no salary but provided for his or her own support, and that of any dependents, the petitioner must show how support was maintained by submitting with the petition verifiable documents such as audited financial statements, financial institution records, brokerage account statements, trust documents signed by an attorney, or other evidence acceptable to USCIS.
Change or addition of employers:

An R-1 alien may not be compensated for work for any religious organization other than the one for which a petition has been approved or the alien will be out of status. A different or additional employer seeking to employ the alien may obtain prior approval of such employment through the filing of a separate petition and appropriate supplement, supporting documents, and fee.

Employer obligations:

When an R-1 alien is working less than the required number of hours or has been released from or has otherwise terminated employment before the expiration of a period of authorized R-1 stay, the R-1 alien’s approved employer must notify DHS within 14 days using procedures set forth in the instructions to the petition or otherwise prescribed by USCIS.

Nonimmigrant intent:

An alien shall maintain an intention to depart the United States upon the expiration or termination of R-1 or R-2 status. However, a nonimmigrant petition, application for initial admission, change of status, or extension of stay in R classification may not be denied solely on the basis of a filed or an approved request for permanent labor certification or a filed or approved immigrant visa preference petition.

Inspections, evaluations, verifications, and compliance reviews:

The supporting evidence submitted may be verified by USCIS through any means determined appropriate by USCIS, up to and including an on-site inspection of the petitioning organization. The inspection may include a tour of the organization’s facilities, an interview with the organization’s officials, a review of selected organization records relating to compliance with immigration laws and regulations, and an interview with any other individuals or review of any other records that the USCIS considers pertinent to the integrity of the organization. An inspection may include the organization headquarters, or satellite locations, or the work locations planned for the applicable employee. If USCIS decides to conduct a pre-approval inspection, satisfactory completion of such inspection will be a condition for approval of any petition.

Revocation of approved petitions:
  • Director discretion: The director may revoke a petition at any time, even after the expiration of the petition.
  • Automatic revocation: The approval of any petition is automatically revoked if the petitioner ceases to exist or files a written withdrawal of the petition.
  • Revocation on notice:
    • Grounds for revocation:The director shall send to the petitioner a notice of intent to revoke the petition in relevant part if he or she finds that:
      • The beneficiary is no longer employed by the petitioner in the capacity specified in the petition;
      • The statement of facts contained in the petition was not true and correct;
      • The petitioner violated terms and conditions of the approved petition;
      • The petitioner violated any requirements of the "R" visa Act;
      • approval of the petition violated "R" visa act or involved gross error.
    • Notice and decision: The notice of intent to revoke shall contain a detailed statement of the grounds for the revocation and the time period allowed for the petitioner's rebuttal. The petitioner may submit evidence in rebuttal within 30 days of receipt of the notice. The director shall consider all relevant evidence presented in deciding whether to revoke the petition.
Applying for a R Visa - Required Documentation

Religious workers should generally apply at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate with jurisdiction over their place of permanent residence. Although visa applicants may apply at any U.S. consular office abroad, it may be more difficult to qualify for the visa outside the country of permanent residence. As part of the visa application process, an interview at the embassy consular section is required for visa applicants between the ages of 14 through 79. Persons age 13 and younger, and age 80 and older, generally do not require an interview, unless requested by the embassy or consulate. The waiting time for an interview appointment for applicants can vary, so early visa application is strongly encouraged. Visa wait times for interview appointments and visa processing time information for each U.S. Embassy or Consulate worldwide is available on our website at Visa Wait Times and on most embassy websites. During the visa application process, usually at the interview, an ink-free, digital fingerprint scan will be quickly taken. Some visa applications require further administrative processing , which takes additional time after the visa applicant's interview by a Consular Officer.

  • A completed application, Nonimmigrant Visa Applicant,Form DS-156, completed and signed. The DS-156 must be the March 2006 date, electronic "e-form application." Select Nonimmigrant Visa Application Form DS-156 to access the electronic version of the form DS-156. Important Notice: At certain U.S. Embassies and Consulates abroad, nonimmigrant visa applicants are now required to apply visa using the new DS-160 Online Nonimmigrant Visa Electronic Application, instead of the nonimmigrant application forms DS-156, 157, 158, and other related forms. Learn more and find out which Embassies have converted to the DS-160 Online process.
  • A passport valid for travel to the United States and with a validity date at least six months beyond the applicant's intended period of stay in the United States (unless country-specific agreements provide exemptions). If more than one person is included in the passport, each person desiring a visa must complete an application.
  • One (1) 2x2 photograph. See the required photo format explained in Nonimmigrant Photograph Requirements .
  • All male nonimmigrant visa applicants between the ages of 16 and 45, regardless of nationality and regardless of where they apply, must complete and submit a form DS-157 in addition to the Nonimmigrant Visa Application (DS-156).
  • As part of the visa application process, an interview at the embassy consular section is required for almost all visa applicants. The waiting time for an interview appointment for applicants can vary, so early visa application is strongly encouraged. During the visa interview, an ink-free, digital fingerprint scan will be quickly taken, as well as a digital photo. Some applicants will need additional screening, and will be notified when they apply.
Additional Documentation

To schedule the interview appointment, you will need the receipt number that is printed on the approved Form I-129 petition. NOTE: During your interview, the consular officer will use the receipt number to verify the Form I-129 petition approval. Therefore, Form I-797 is not used to verify petition approval for your visa interview. Consular officers may request whatever documentation is required, and the applicant must be prepared to present to the consular officer any or all of the following documentation to verify that the applicant and the religious organization qualify for the R status, including:

  • Proof of tax-exempt status or eligibility for tax-exempt status and;
  • A letter from an authorized official of the specific unit of the employing organization certifying:
    • That if the applicant's religious membership was maintained, in whole or in part, outside the United States, the foreign and United States religious organizations belong to the same religious denomination;
    • That, 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;
  • 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 its 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;
  • The arrangements for remuneration, including the amount and source of salary, other types of compensation such as food and housing, 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;
  • The name and location of the specific organizational unit of the religious denomination or affiliate for which the applicant will be providing services;
  • If the alien is to work for an organization that is affiliated with a religious denomination, a description of the nature of the relationship between the two organizations;
  • Evidence of the religious organization's assets and methods of operation; and
  • The organization's papers of incorporation under applicable state law.
U.S. Port of Entry

A visa allows a foreign citizen coming from abroad, to travel to the United States port-of entry and request permission to enter the U.S. Applicants should be aware that a visa does not guarantee entry into the United States. The Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials have authority to grant or deny admission to the United States. If you are allowed to enter the U.S., the CBP official will determine the length of your visit on the Arrival-Departure Record, Form I-94. Since the Form I-94 documents your authorized stay in the U.S., it is important to keep it inside your passport. Upon arrival (at an international airport, seaport, or land border crossing), you will be enrolled in the US-VISIT entry-exit program. In addition, some travelers will also need to register their entry into and their departure from the U.S. with the Special Registration program. The Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection internet site offers additional information on Admission Entry requirements.

Staying Beyond Your Authorized Stay in the U.S. and Being Out of Status
  • You should carefully consider the dates of your authorized stay and make sure you are following the procedures under U.S. immigration laws. It is important that you depart the U.S. on or before the last day you are authorized to be in the U.S. on any given trip, based on the specified end date on your Arrival-Departure Record, Form I-94. Failure to depart the U.S. will cause you to be out-of-status.
  • Staying beyond the period of time authorized by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and being out-of-status in the United States is a violation of U.S. immigration laws, and may cause you to be ineligible for a visa in the future for return travel to the U.S. Select Classes of Aliens Ineligible to Receive Visas to learn more.
  • Staying unlawfully in the United States beyond the date Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials have authorized--even by one day--results in your visa being automatically voided, in accordance with INA 222(g). Under this provision of immigration law, if you overstay on your nonimmigrant authorized stay in the U.S., your visa will be automatically voided. In this situation, you are required to reapply for a new nonimmigrant visa, generally in your country of nationality.
  • For non immigrants in the U.S. who have an Arrival-Departure Record, Form I-94 with the CBP admitting officer endorsement of Duration of Status or D/S, but who are no longer performing the same function in the U.S. that they were originally admitted to perform (e .g. you are no longer working for the same employer or you are no longer attending the same school), a DHS or an immigration judge makes a finding of status violation, resulting in the termination of the period of authorized stay.
How do I Apply or extend my R Visa?

To apply for an R visa, or to extend an existing visa, click here >