Who Qualifies to Apply for the R-1 Visa?

The R1 visa, also known as the religious worker visa, is intended for foreign religious workers to enter the US temporarily in order to take part in their vocation or religious profession. If you are a liturgical worker, religious teacher or instructor, religious hospitals or healthcare worker, missionary, religious translator, religious counselor, cantor, catechist, or religious broadcaster, you may qualify for an R-1 visa. If you are a maintenance worker, clerk, or fundraiser in a church, you do not qualify for a religious worker visa.

If you are a religious worker and hope to enter the US temporarily for your vacation, there are many benefits to the R1 visa. For example, unlike other non-immigration US visas, the religious worker visa does not require you to prove your foreign residency and your intent to return home. As well, if you have dependants (such as a family) the religious worker visa generally allows your family to travel with you to the US and even attend school in the US. The R1 visa also allows you to travel in and out of the US.

In order to secure a religious worker visa, you must have a US employer who is either a recognized religious organization or a non-profit religious organization, as described in section 501(c)(3) of the IRS (Internal Revenue Code) of 1986. You must be part of the same organization sponsoring you and this organization must be exempt form tax in the US or must qualify for this status. You must also have been part of this religious organization for at least two years before you are slated to enter the US with your R-1 visa. The R1 visa can be granted for three years, or for up to five years.

If you believe that you qualify for an R1 visa and are already in the US, you may be able to apply for your visa at a regional Service Centers. If you are applying from outside of the US, you will need to apply for a visa through a consulate. In both cases, R-1 visa petitions require plenty of documentation, including proof of religious work in the US, proof of religious organization affiliation, and proof that the organization meets all requirements. If you have dependants, you can apply for an R-2 visa for them to travel to the US with you. Generally, before applying for an R1 visa, the prospective employer in the US must submit Form I-129 (Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker) and have this approved before an R-1 visa can be granted.