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Chapter 2 - General Requirements

A. Overview

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.[1]

An alien cannot self-petition for R-1 classification.[2] 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;[3]

  • 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;[4] 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.[5]

B. Filing Process

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 aliens seeking an R-1 nonimmigrant classification.[6] This petition requirement also applies to visa-exempt religious workers, such as Canadian citizens.[7]

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.[8] 

The petitioner should list all locations where the R-1 nonimmigrant will be working on the Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker (Form I-129).[9] 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.[10] 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.[11]

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).[12] 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.[13] The petitioner bears the burden of showing that it qualifies for an RFRA exemption. USCIS decides exemption requests on a case-by-case basis.

Footnotes


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.

2. [^] While special immigrant religious workers may self-petition, R-1 nonimmigrants may not do so. See 73 FR 72276 (PDF) (Nov. 26, 2008).

3. [^] See 8 CFR 214.2(r)(3).

4. [^] See 8 CFR 214.2(r)(3) and 8 CFR 214.2(r)(8)(ii).

5. [^] See 8 CFR 214.2(r)(1) and 8 CFR 214.2(r)(11).

6. [^] See 8 CFR 103.2(a)(1).

7. [^] See 8 CFR 214.2(r)(4)(i).

8. [^] The R-1 Classification Supplement is part of the Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker (Form I-129).

9. [^] See 8 CFR 214.2(r)(8)(x).

10. [^] See 8 CFR 214.2(r)(2).

11. [^] See 8 CFR 214.2(r)(1)(v) and 8 CFR 214.2(r)(2). For information on fees, see the Fee Schedule (Form G-1055 (PDF, 264.72 KB)).

12. [^] See Pub. L. 103-141 (PDF), 107 Stat. 1488 (November 16, 1993).

13. [^] See 8 CFR 103.2(b).

Resources

Legal Authorities

8 CFR 214.2(r) - Religious workers

INA 101(a)(15)(R) - Definition of R nonimmigrant classification

INA 214(c) - Admission of nonimmigrants

Appendices

No appendices available at this time.

Updates

POLICY ALERT - Fee Schedule and Changes to Certain Other Immigration Benefit Request Requirements Final Rule

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is revising its policy guidance in the USCIS Policy Manual to align with the Fee Schedule and Changes to Certain Other Immigration Benefit Request Requirements Final Rule, published in the Federal Register on August 3, 2020. This guidance becomes effective October 2, 2020. For information regarding implementation, see our litigation summary.

Read More
Technical Update - Moving the Adjudicator’s Field Manual Content into the USCIS Policy Manual

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is updating and incorporating relevant Adjudicator’s Field Manual (AFM) content into the USCIS Policy Manual. As that process is ongoing, USCIS has moved any remaining AFM content to its corresponding USCIS Policy Manual Part, in PDF format, until relevant AFM content has been properly incorporated into the USCIS Policy Manual. To the extent that a provision in the USCIS Policy Manual conflicts with remaining AFM content or Policy Memoranda, the updated information in the USCIS Policy Manual prevails. To find remaining AFM content, see the crosswalk (PDF) between the AFM and the Policy Manual.

Technical Update - Incorporating Existing Guidance into the Policy Manual

This technical update is part of an initiative to move existing policy guidance from the Adjudicator’s Field Manual (AFM) into the Policy Manual. This update does not make major substantive changes but consolidates and incorporates existing AFM guidance into the Policy Manual, streamlining USCIS’ immigration policy while removing obsolete information. This guidance replaces Chapters 1, 3.4, 10.2, 10.3(a), 10.3(c), 10.3(e), 10.3(i), 10.4, 10.22, 11.1(c), 13, 14, 17, 23.8, 31.7, 33.10, 34.5, 35, 41.6, 42, 44, 56.1, 56.3, 56.4, 62, 81, 82, 83.1, 83.2, and 83.3 of the AFM, related appendices, and policy memoranda.

Technical Update - Replacing the Term “Foreign National”

This technical update replaces all instances of the term “foreign national” with “alien” throughout the Policy Manual as used to refer to a person who meets the definition provided in INA 101(a)(3) [“any person not a citizen or national of the United States”].