Religious workers seeking to enter the U.S. to pursue work ministry or related work are likely to enter using the R nonimmigrant visa.
To qualify for an R visa the applicant must be:
- A priest, minister, rabbi, monk, or imam;
- A person working in a professional capacity in a religious occupation or vocation; or
- A person who works for a religious organization or an affiliate in a religious occupation who has been a member of the religious group for at least the two years immediately preceding the application.
A petition must be filed with the USCIS. The form for petitioning for an R visa is the I-129 and the R-Supplement.
Among the most important evidence that must be presented by the applicant is documentation of the sponsoring religious group’s tax exempt status in the US as well as a support letter from the organization that will employ the R-1 visa holder.
The support letter must outline the applicant’s two-year minimum membership, including where that membership occurred (whether in or out of the U.S.).
It should also include a statement that the foreign-based religious group and the U.S. based religious group for which the applicant will work belong to the same denomination.
The support letter must state the name and location of the organization in the U.S. for which the applicant will work and must describe in detail the applicant’s qualifications, job duties, and anticipated salary.
Change of Status
If a person is in the US and wishes to change from one nonimmigrant category to R-1 status, an application must be made with the USCIS. This is done on Form I-129 with R-Supplement. Also, extensions of stay in R-1 status are made on this form.
Authorized period of stay
The maximum period of stay in R-1 status is 5 years. A person can obtain R-1 status again after remaining outside the US for one year before making another application.
Spouses and children of R-1 nonimmigrants and classified as R-2. They are not permitted to work unless they have their own work visas.