R-1 Nonimmigrant Religious Workers
Ministers and non-ministers in religious vocations and occupations may come to the U.S. temporarily for the purpose of performing religious work.
An R-1 nonimmigrant is a noncitizen who is coming to the United States temporarily to work at least part time (an average of at least 20 hours per week) as a minister or in a religious vocation or occupation and be employed by a:
- Non-profit religious organization in the United States;
- Religious organization that is authorized by a group tax exemption holder to use its group tax exemption; or
- Non-profit organization which is affiliated with a religious denomination in the United States.
To qualify, you must have been a member of a religious denomination having a bona fide non-profit religious organization in the United States for at least two years immediately before filing the petition.
Petition Process and Evidentiary Requirements
A prospective or existing U.S. employer must file Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, on behalf of a noncitizen seeking to enter the United States as a nonimmigrant minister, or a religious worker in a religious vocation or occupation.
If a petitioner believes that one of the eligibility requirements substantially burdens the organization’s exercise of religion, they may seek an exemption under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). A written request for the exemption 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 bears the burden of showing that it qualifies for a RFRA exemption and must support the request with relevant documentation. We will decide exemption requests on a case-by-case basis.
The petitioner must include evidence of eligibility for the classification sought. Both the petitioning organization and the religious worker must satisfy certain requirements, which are summarized below and discussed further in Volume 2, Part O, of the USCIS Policy Manual.
Proof of Tax-Exempt Status
If the petitioning organization has its own individual IRS 501(c)(3) letter, the petitioner must provide a currently valid determination letter from the IRS showing that the organization is tax-exempt. The IRS determination letter must be valid and cover the petitioning organization at the time the religious organization files Form I-129. A valid determination letter may include a letter that the IRS issued before the effective date of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, or may be issued under subsequent Internal Revenue Code revisions.
If the organization is recognized as tax-exempt under a group tax exemption, the petitioner must provide a currently valid IRS group tax-exemption determination letter and documentation that the organization is covered under the group tax exemption. Examples include a:
- Letter from the parent organization authorizing the petitioner to use its group tax exemption;
- Directory for that organization listing the petitioner as a member of the group;
- Membership listing on the parent organization’s website that confirms coverage under its exemption; or
- Letter from the IRS confirming the coverage.
If the IRS determination letter does not identify the organization’s tax exemption as a religious organization, then the petitioner must submit evidence establishing the organization’s religious nature and purpose. This may include, but is not limited to, the entity’s articles of incorporation or bylaws, flyers, articles, brochures, or other literature that describes the religious purpose and nature of the organization.
If the organization is affiliated with the religious denomination, the petitioner must provide:
- A currently valid determination letter from the IRS showing that the organization is tax-exempt;
- Documentation that establishes the religious nature and purpose of the organization, including, but not limited to:
- A copy of the organizing instrument of the organization that specifies the purposes of the organization;
- Organizational literature describing the religious purpose and nature of the activities of the organization; and
- A religious denomination certification, included as part of the Form I-129, Supplement R, stating that the petitioning organization is affiliated with the religious denomination. The religious denomination certification should be signed by an organization other than the petitioning organization, and attest that the petitioning organization is part of the same religious denomination as the attesting organization.
Proof of Salaried or Non-Salaried Compensation, or Self-Support
The petitioner must submit verifiable evidence showing how it intends to compensate the religious worker, including specific monetary or in-kind compensation, or how the R-1 nonimmigrant will be self-supporting as part of an established missionary program. Evidence of how the petitioner intends to provide salaried or non-salaried compensation may include:
- Past evidence of compensation for similar positions;
- Budgets showing monies set aside for salaries, or leases;
- Evidence that the prospective employer will provide room and board to the religious worker; and
- W-2 forms or certified tax returns.
If IRS documents are not available, the petitioner must explain why and provide comparable, verifiable documentation.
Self-support means that the position the beneficiary will hold is part of an established program for temporary, uncompensated missionary work, and part of a broader international program of missionary work the denomination sponsors. If the beneficiary will be self-supporting, the petitioner must provide:
- Evidence demonstrating that the petitioner has an established program for temporary, uncompensated missionary work;
- Evidence demonstrating that the denomination maintains missionary programs both in the United States and abroad;
- Evidence of the beneficiary’s acceptance into the missionary program;
- Evidence demonstrating the religious duties and responsibilities associated with the traditionally uncompensated missionary work; and
- Copies of the beneficiary’s bank records, budgets documenting the sources of self-support (including personal or family savings, room and board with host families in the United States, or donations from the denomination’s churches) or other verifiable evidence acceptable to USCIS.
For additional information about USCIS policy related to the compensation requirements, see the USCIS Policy Manual.
Proof of Denominational Membership and Evidence Regarding the Prospective Position
The petitioner must submit:
- Evidence that the religious worker is a member of a religious denomination having a bona fide non-profit religious organization in the United States for at least two years immediately before filing Form I-129; and
- Evidence to establish that the religious worker is qualified to perform the duties of the offered position. If the religious worker will work as a minister, the petitioner must provide:
- A copy of the religious worker’s certificate of ordination or similar documents; and
- Documents showing the religious denomination accepted the religious worker’s qualification as a minister, as well as evidence that they completed any course of prescribed theological education at an accredited theological institution normally required or recognized by that religious denomination. Include transcripts, curriculum, and documentation that establishes that the theological institution is accredited by the denomination
If the denomination does not require a prescribed theological education, the petitioner must provide:
- The religious denomination’s requirements for ordination to minister;
- A list of duties performed by virtue of ordination;
- The denomination’s levels of ordination, if any; and
- Evidence the religious worker completed the denomination’s requirements for ordination.
Please remember to provide a duplicate copy of the Form I-129 and all supporting documents. Failure to submit duplicate copies may result in a delay in the issuance of a nonimmigrant visa abroad from the U.S. Department of State.
Under the regulations at 8 CFR 214.2(r)(16), we may conduct a pre-approval inspection. In that case, successfully completing the inspection will be a condition for us approving your petition.
The religious organization must provide the physical address where you will work so we may conduct a pre-approval site inspection, even if that address is not the same as the mailing address.
In addition, we may inspect your work location after adjudicating the form to verify your work hours, compensation, and duties. We may also complete a post-adjudication inspection in cases of suspected fraud or where the petitioning entity has undergone substantial changes since its last filing. We closely monitor the site visit program to ensure it does not cause undue delays in the adjudication process.
After we approve your petition, the consular post determines whether you are eligible to receive the R-1 nonimmigrant visa. As with all individuals who appear at ports of entry, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) determines whether the beneficiary may be admitted to the United States. Visa exempt workers must present the original Form I-797, Notice of Action, at a port of entry, as evidence of an approved Form I-129. For more information on visa application processing and issuance fees, see the Department of State’s Temporary Worker Visas webpage.
Period of Stay
We may grant R-1 status for an initial period of admission for up to 30 months and subsequent extensions for up to an additional 30 months. Your total period of stay in the United States in R-1 classification cannot exceed five years (60 months). We only count time spent physically in the United States in valid R-1 status toward the maximum period of stay. See the USCIS Policy Manual Volume 2, Part O, Chapter 7.
If you obtain Form I-94, Arrival/Departure Record, from CBP with an initial period of admission beyond the regulatory maximum of 30 months, you should bring the error to the attention a CBP officer at the port of entry that issued the Form I-94, or the Deferred Inspection Office of CBP. Do not use Form I-102, Application for Replacement/Initial Nonimmigrant Arrival-Departure Document, to request that we correct a CBP error on Form I-94. We cannot correct the Form I-94. Neither you nor the petitioner will be penalized for the error. However, the error may affect your future immigration benefits if you exceed the statutory maximum of five years. Please visit cbp.gov for information on correcting a Form I-94 issued by CBP.
If your Form I-94 lists an initial period of admission longer than 30 months and you need to stay beyond 30 months, you may request an extension of stay before the end of that 30-month period of admission.
Before applying for a new nonimmigrant R-1 visa (with a new five-year maximum stay), you must have been physically present outside the United States for the immediate previous year. These time limitations do not apply to religious workers who did not reside continuously in the United States and whose employment in the United States was seasonal, intermittent or for a total of six months or less per year. The limitations also do not apply to religious workers who reside abroad and commute to the United States to work part time.
Nonimmigrant religious workers must maintain the intent to depart the United States when their nonimmigrant stay expires. At the same time, we may not deny a nonimmigrant petition, application for initial admission, change of status, or extension of stay in R classification solely on the basis of a filed or an approved permanent labor certification application or immigrant visa petition.
Family of R-1 Visa Holders
An R-1 religious worker’s spouse and unmarried children under the age of 21 may be eligible for R-2 classification. An R-2 dependent is not authorized to work based on this visa classification.
Ministers and members of religious denominations seeking temporary admission to the United States for brief periods may be eligible to be admitted as B-1 business visitors if their activities are allowed under the B-1 nonimmigrant visitor category. See 8 CFR 214.2(b)(1). The Department of State governs the issuance of visas. For more information about the B-1 visa category and allowed B-1 activities, please refer to the Foreign Affairs Manual at 9 FAM 402.2-5(c)(1).
Notification of Termination of Employment
The petitioner must notify us within 14 days of any change in the nonimmigrant religious worker’s employment. For the religious worker to change employers, the new petitioner must file a new Form I-129, attestation, and supporting evidence.
Petitioners must also notify us of any R-1 employment terminations at one of the following addresses:
Mail:U.S. Department of Homeland Security
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
California Service Center
Attn: BCU Section Chief
P.O. Box 30050
Laguna Niguel, CA 92607-3004
Change of Location of Employment
A change in location of employment may constitute a material change to the terms and conditions of employment as specified in the original approved R-1 petition. If there is a material change in the terms or conditions of employment (or the beneficiary’s eligibility), the petitioner may be required to file an amended petition and receive an approval before the beneficiary’s move to a new location of employment.
If it is anticipated that you will be moved between different locations within a larger organization, that organization should file the petition. For example, a minister may move from ministry to ministry within a denomination, including at a different or additional unit of the religious denomination if the petitioning organization oversees all of these locations.
The petitioning organization can file an amended petition, with fee, by checking Box F under Item 2 in Part 2 of Form I-129.
For information about petitioning for lawful permanent residency for a religious worker, see the Employment-Based Immigration: Fourth Preference EB-4 page.
- Read our policy on R-1 adjudications in Volume 2, Part O of the USCIS Policy Manual.