Coming to the US on an R1 Visa

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Foreign nationals can come to the US through the immigrant or non immigrant visa category. Immigrants come with an intention to live permanently in the US whereas non immigrants only intend to stay temporarily for a specific purpose, like for tourism or medical treatment.

There are many kinds of non immigrant visas. Each visa is granted for a different purpose and each is known by a letter-number combination as well as by a name. When a person gets a non immigrant visa, he/she is expected to perform only specific, authorized activities while in the US. The person is therefore given a special visa authorizing that activity for a determinate, limited time.

The R1 Visa

The R1 visa is for workers with a religious vocation wishing to come to US to work temporarily for a non-profit religious organization.

Religious workers are ministers of religion who are authorized by a recognized denomination to conduct religious worship and perform other duties usually performed by members of the clergy (such as administering the sacraments). It does not apply to lay preachers. Religious vocation means a calling to religious life, evidenced by the demonstration of a lifelong commitment, such as the taking of vows. Examples of religious vocations are nuns, monks, and religious brothers and sisters.

Religious workers who wish to stay in the US permanently may file Form I-360. This form is used to petition for status as a special immigrant. It allows a religious organization to request permanent resident status (green card status) for a religious worker.

Foreign nationals (ministers or who work in religious occupations) can come to the US for temporary employment by a non-profit religious organization through the R1 visa. The religious worker should have an official job offer from a tax-exempt religious organization. The job offer has to be for at least part-time employment (at an average of at least twenty hours per week).

Criteria to Qualify for an R1 Visa

  • The foreign national religious worker should have been a member of a religious denomination for at least two years immediately before filing of the petition.
  • The religious denomination should be a bona fide non-profit religious organization in the US.
  • The person comes to the US to work solely:
  1. As a minister of that denomination; or
  2. In a professional position in a religious vocation or occupation for that organization; or
  3. In a religious occupation for the organization or its non-profit affiliate.

An R1 visa holder can stay in the US for up to thirty months and can then extend his/her status for an additional thirty months, for a maximum of five years in the same R1 status.

Features of the R1 Visa Category

  • An R1 visa holder can travel freely in and out of the US.
  • There are no numerical limits to R-1 visas.
  • An R1 visa holder can receive payment for services he/she renders.
  • R1 status is valid up to thirty months and can further be renewed for an additional thirty months, for a total of five years.
  • Accompanying spouses or unmarried children under the age of 21 can get R 2 visas. Though R 2 visa holders cannot work in the US, they can study in US primary and secondary schools.

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