Overview of the R1 Visa Application Process

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The R1 visa is issued to foreign nationals with a religious occupation who want to come to US to work on a temporary basis for a non-profit religious organization.

R1 Visa From Outside of the US

If the potential employee is abroad, the US employer has to file Form I-129, Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker, with the appropriate USCIS Service Center in the US. After this petition is approved, the employee has to submit an application for an R1 visa at a US consulate in his/her country. On approval of this application, the employee can use his/her visa to enter the US under the R1 visa category.

R1 Visa From Inside the US

Even if the potential employee is already in the US in another status, the US employer still has to file Form I-129, Petition for Non immigrant Worker, with the appropriate USCIS Service Center in the US. This petition will request a change of status to that of a R1 visa category. If USCIS approves the change of status, the foreign worker will not be required to leave the US. His/her status will be changed to R1 status as soon as the petition is approved by USCIS.

If this foreign national (potential employee) has an accompanying spouse or children in the US, a separate form should be filed to request their status to be changed to R2 status (unless they qualify independently for some other status and wish to request that status instead). Form I-539, Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status, has to be filed to change status for dependent family members who are already inside the US.

What the Employer Should Do

Once the employer has decided to offer a job to the foreign worker, the employer should file a petition (Form I-129 along with the R supplement).with the USCIS.

The R1 Visa Package

The employer has to mail the following documents to the USCIS:

  • Petition cover letter
  • Completed and signed Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker
  • A copy of a written job offer or contract
  • Evidence of the tax-exempt status of the sponsoring religious organization
  • Documents proving that the religious worker is a member of a religious denomination and has been for at least the past two years
  • Documents showing that the denomination is a bona fide non – profit religious organization in the US
  • Documents of the compensatory agreement between the employer and the employee
  • Filing fees

It will be a good idea to have a cover page for each section of evidence. This will make it easier for the USCIS officer who will make a final decision on the petition.

After reviewing the petition, the USCIS will either approve the petition or issue a Request for Evidence. If they approve the petition, they will issue Form I-797, Notice of Action to the sponsoring employer showing that the R1 petition has been approved. If the potential employee plans to submit a visa application at a US consulate abroad, USCIS will also notify the consulate of the foreign national’s choice and send the consulate a complete copy of the application package.

It is important to note that only the sponsoring religious organization (the petitioner) will receive communication from the USCIS on any information about the petition. The foreign employee will not receive any communication on his/her petition status.

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