Chapter 2 - General Requirements
The temporary nonimmigrant religious worker (R-1) classification allows religious workers to enter the United States, or change status from another nonimmigrant category, in order to temporarily perform services as a minister of religion or in a religious occupation or vocation.
A noncitizen cannot self-petition for R-1 classification. A U.S. employer must file a Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker (Form I-129), seeking to classify a beneficiary as an R-1 nonimmigrant. In general, the petitioning R-1 employer must submit evidence demonstrating that:
The petitioner is either a bona fide non-profit religious organization, or a bona fide organization that is affiliated with the religious denomination;
The beneficiary has been a member of the same type of religious denomination as that of the petitioner for the 2 years immediately preceding the time of application for admission; and
The beneficiary is entering the United States for the purpose of undertaking a compensated (either salaried or non-salaried) position or, in certain circumstances, an uncompensated position that is part of an established program for temporary, uncompensated missionary work.
USCIS requires a petitioning employer to file the Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker (Form I-129), with the R-1 Classification Supplement and required fee, for all persons seeking an R-1 nonimmigrant classification. This petition requirement also applies to visa-exempt religious workers, such as Canadian citizens.
To qualify for R-1 nonimmigrant classification, the petitioning U.S. employer must submit the R-1 Employer Attestation that is included in the R-1 Classification Supplement and evidence documenting that the petitioner and beneficiary meet the requirements set forth below.
The petitioner should list all locations where the R-1 nonimmigrant will be working on the Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker (Form I-129). If it is anticipated that the R-1 nonimmigrant will be moved between different locations within a larger organization, that larger organization should petition for the worker. For example, a minister may move from ministry to ministry within a denomination, including at a different or additional unit of the religious denomination with a different federal tax number if the petitioning organization oversees all of these locations.
An R-1 nonimmigrant may work for more than one bona fide religious organization at the same time. However, except as described in the previous paragraph (involving a larger employer overseeing multiple locations), when the beneficiary works for more than one employer, each employing organization must submit a separate Form I-129 and R-1 Classification Supplement, including the R-1 Employer Attestation, along with the appropriate documentation and fees.
If a petitioner believes that one of the requirements for this classification substantially burdens the organization’s exercise of religion, it may seek an exemption under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA). A written request for the exemption from a provision’s requirement should accompany the initial filing, and it must explain how the provision:
Requires participation in an activity prohibited by a sincerely held religious belief; or
Prevents participation in conduct motivated by a sincerely held religious belief.
The petitioner must support the request with relevant documentation. The petitioner bears the burden of showing that it qualifies for an RFRA exemption. USCIS decides exemption requests on a case-by-case basis.
[^ 1] In some circumstances, another nonimmigrant classification, such as the business visitor (B-1) classification, may be more appropriate for certain members of religious and charitable activities. Discussion of the B-1 visa is beyond the scope of this Part, but the B-1 classification may include religious ministers who are on an evangelical tour or who are exchanging pulpits with U.S. counterparts, certain missionary workers, or participants in certain voluntary service programs. See 9 FAM 402.16-12, B Visas for Certain Religious Activity. See 9 FAM 402.2-5(C)(1), Ministers of Religion and Missionaries.