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Chapter 4 - Beneficiary Requirements

To qualify for a temporary nonimmigrant religious worker (R-1) classification, the beneficiary must:

  • Be a member of a religious denomination having a bona fide non-profit religious organization in the United States for at least the 2 years immediately preceding the filing of the petition;

  • Be coming to the United States to work at least in a part-time position (at least 20 hours per week);

  • Be coming solely as a minister or to perform a religious vocation or occupation;

  • Be coming to or remaining in the United States at the request of the petitioner to work for the petitioner; and

  • Not work in the United States in any capacity not approved in a DHS-approved petition.[1] 

The beneficiary must also intend to depart the United States upon the expiration or termination of his or her nonimmigrant status. However, a nonimmigrant petition, application for initial admission, change of status, or extension of stay in R classification may not be denied solely on the basis of a filed or an approved request for permanent labor certification or a filed or approved immigrant visa preference petition.[2]

A. Qualifying Employment

The beneficiary must be coming to engage in a religious vocation or in a religious occupation, or as a minister of religion.

Religious Worker[3]

For the purpose of the R-1 nonimmigrant classification, a religious worker is someone who:

  • Is a member of the religious denomination that has a bona fide non-profit religious organization in the United States, and was a member in the same type of religious denomination for at least 2 years immediately preceding the time of application for admission;

  • Is coming to the United States to work at least part-time (at least 20 hours per week);

  • Is coming to the United States solely to perform a religious vocation or occupation in either a professional or nonprofessional capacity, or as a minister;

  • Is coming to or remaining in the United States at the request of the petitioner to work for the petitioner;

  • Will not work in the United States in any capacity other than that of a religious worker; and

  • Is engaged in and, according to the denomination's standards, qualified for a religious occupation or vocation, whether or not in a professional capacity, or as a minister.

Religious Vocation

A religious vocation is a formal lifetime commitment through vows, investitures, ceremonies, or similar indications to a religious way of life. People within a religious vocation dedicate their lives to religious practices and functions, as distinguished from secular members of a denomination.[4] The regulations state that the religious denomination must have a class of persons whose lives are dedicated to religious practices and functions, as distinguished from the secular members of the religion.

Religious Occupation[5]

In order for USCIS to consider the employment a religious occupation, the title of the position is not determinative; rather, USCIS looks at whether the occupation meets all of the following requirements:

  • The duties must primarily relate to a traditional religious function and be recognized as a religious occupation within the denomination;

  • The duties must be primarily related to, and must clearly involve, inculcating (teaching and instilling in others) or carrying out the religious creed and beliefs of the denomination;

  • The duties do not include positions which are primarily administrative or supportive in nature, although limited administrative duties that are only incidental to religious functions are permissible;[6] and

  • Religious study or training for religious work does not constitute a religious occupation, but a religious worker may pursue study or training, incident to status, while in the United States as an R-1 nonimmigrant.

Minister[7]

For the purpose of R-1 nonimmigrant classification, a minister is someone who:

  • Is fully authorized by and trained in the religious denomination to conduct religious worship, and perform other duties usually performed by authorized members of the clergy of the denomination;

  • Performs activities rationally related to being a minister;

  • Works solely as a minister in the United States which may include administrative duties incidental to the duties of a minister; and

  • Is not a lay preacher or a person not authorized to perform clergy’s duties.

B. Religious Denomination

A religious denomination is a religious group or community of believers that have a common type of ecclesiastical government that governs or administers and includes one or more of the following:

  • A recognized common creed or statement of faith shared among the denomination’s members;

  • A common form of worship;

  • A common formal code of doctrine and discipline;

  • Common religious services and ceremonies;

  • Common established places of religious worship or religious congregations; or

  • Comparable indications of a bona fide religious denomination.[8]

The R-1 nonimmigrant beneficiary must have at least 2 years, immediately preceding the filing of the petition, of membership in a religious denomination.[9] Such membership must be in the same type of religious denomination in which the beneficiary will work in the United States.[10]

C. Nonimmigrant Intent

To be eligible for R-1 nonimmigrant classification, the beneficiary must maintain an intention to depart the United States upon the expiration or termination of such R-1 nonimmigrant status, if granted.[11] However, a nonimmigrant petition, application for initial admission, change of status, or extension of stay in R-1 nonimmigrant classification may not be denied solely based on the beneficiary’s pursuit of permanent residence in the United States (for example, evidence of a filed or approved request for permanent labor certification or immigrant petition on the beneficiary’s behalf).[12]

D. Documentation and Evidence

The petitioner must submit evidence to establish that the beneficiary meets the requirements for R-1 nonimmigrant classification.[13]

Ministers

For a beneficiary who is a minister, the petitioner must submit the following:

  • A copy of the beneficiary’s certificate of ordination or similar documents;

  • Documents reflecting acceptance of the beneficiary’s qualifications as a minister in the religious denomination; and

  • Evidence that the beneficiary has completed any course of prescribed theological education at an accredited theological institution normally required or recognized by that religious denomination, including transcripts, curriculum, and documentation that establishes that the theological education is accredited by the denomination.[14]

For denominations that do not require a theological education, rather than document such education, the petitioner must instead submit evidence of:

  • The denomination’s requirements for ordination to minister;

  • Duties allowed to be performed by virtue of ordination;

  • The denomination’s levels of ordination, if any; and

  • The beneficiary’s completion of the denomination’s requirements for ordination.[15]

Religious Vocations and Occupations

For a beneficiary who will work in a religious vocation or occupation, the petitioner must submit evidence of the following:

  • The beneficiary is entering the United States to perform a religious vocation or occupation, defined above (in either a professional or nonprofessional capacity);[16]

  • The beneficiary is qualified for the religious occupation or vocation according to the denomination’s standards.[17]

E. Family Members

1. Initial Petition

The spouse and unmarried children under 21 years old of a principal R-1 nonimmigrant may qualify for dependent R-2 status if their primary purpose in coming to the United States is to join or accompany the principal R-1 nonimmigrant.[18]

In general, the spouse and children are granted R-2 nonimmigrant status for the same period of time and subject to the same conditions as the principal R-1 nonimmigrant, regardless of the amount of time the spouse and children may already have spent in the United States in R-2 status.[19]

2. Request to Extend or Change Nonimmigrant Status

R-2 dependents may request an extension of stay or change of status by filing an Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status (Form I-539).

3. Employment Authorization Prohibited

An R-2 dependent may not accept employment in the United States.[20]

Footnotes


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

[^ 2] See 8 CFR 214.2(r)(15).

[^ 3] See 8 CFR 214.2(r)(1).

[^ 4] Examples of persons practicing religious vocations include nuns, monks, and religious brothers and sisters. See definition of religious vocation in 8 CFR 214.2(r)(3).

[^ 5] See 8 CFR 214.2(r)(3).

[^ 6] Examples of support positions are janitors, maintenance workers, clerical employees, fund raisers, persons solely involved in the solicitation of donations, or similar positions. See (C) in the definition of religious occupation in 8 CFR 214.2(r)(3).

[^ 7] See 8 CFR 214.2(r)(3).

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

[^ 9] See 8 CFR 214.2(r)(1)(i).

[^ 10] See definition of denominational membership in 8 CFR 214.2(r)(3).

[^ 11] See 8 CFR 214.2(r)(15).

[^ 12] See 8 CFR 214.2(r)(15).

[^ 13] See 8 CFR 103.2(b)(1). See list of the general eligibility requirements for R-1 status at the beginning of this chapter.

[^ 14] See 8 CFR 214.2(r)(10)(i)-(ii).

[^ 15] See 8 CFR 214.2(r)(10)(iii)(A)-(D).

[^ 16] See 8 CFR 214(r)(1)(iii).

[^ 17] See definition of religious worker in 8 CFR 214.2(r)(3).

[^ 18] See INA 101(a)(15)(R). See 8 CFR 214.2(r)(4)(ii)(C).

[^ 19] See 8 CFR 214.2(r)(4)(ii)(A).

[^ 20] See 8 CFR 214.2(r)(4)(ii)(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.

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