R-1 Visas for Religious Workers

Purpose of R-1 Visa / Applying for an R-1 Visa / Family Members

Purpose of R-1 Visa

The R-1 classification is for religious workers seeking to enter the United States. R-1 visas are issued for five years. A person who has already received an R-1 visa must stay outside of the United States for at least one year before applying to enter the United States again in R-1 status.

To qualify for an R-1 visa, a religious worker must be:

  • A minister; or
  • A person working in a professional capacity in a religious occupation or vocation; or
  • A person working in a religious occupation or vocation who has been a member of that religious denomination for at least two years immediately preceding the date of the visa application. The religious denomination must qualify as a bona fide nonprofit religious organization in the United States.

Ministers conduct religious worship and perform other duties conducted by authorized members of the clergy of a particular religion.
Working in a professional capacity is defined by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) as requiring a B.A. degree or its foreign equivalent.

Working in a religious occupation is defined as working in an activity that relates to traditional religious functions. The category includes religious workers such as cantors, liturgical workers, translators, religious broadcasters, and workers in religious hospitals. It does not include nurses, clerks, fundraisers, or maintenance workers.

Working in a religious vocation is defined as "a calling to religious life." Examples of persons working in a religious vocation include nuns and monks.

A religious denomination is defined as a religious group that has some form of ecclesiastical government, a recognized creed and form of worship, a formal code of doctrine and disciplines, religious services and ceremonies, established places of worship, and religious congregations.

Applying for an R-1 Visa

If you are outside the United States and want to apply for an R-1 visa, you should complete and submit Form DS-156, Nonimmigrant Visa Application and then schedule an appointment with your local United States embassy or consulate to apply for the visa. You must submit the electronic version of Form DS-156.

If you are inside the United States and want to change your status to R-1, you must file Form I-129, Petition for Alien Worker, along with the R Supplement, with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. You must also use this form to apply for extensions of R-1 status.

The key document to present at the visa interview is proof of the religious group’s tax exempt status, or its eligibility for tax-exempt status, in the United States. You should also provide a letter from an official of the religious group that will be employing you that describes how you meet the requirements of one of the three religious worker categories and the nature of your work in the United States.

R-2 Visas for Family Members of R-1 Religious Workers

Spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21 are allowed to accompany R-1 religious workers on R-2 status. Persons in R-2 status may study but not work in the United States.