What you need to know about R-1 visas

Immigrant applicants interested in entering the U.S. to become employed by a nonprofit religious organization must be aware of the requirements for an R-1 visa. R-1 visas are provided by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), and are meant for ministers, religious workers and employees of religious organizations.

If a religious worker or minister is interested in staying in the U.S. for a short period of time they are permitted to apply for a visitor visa (also known as a B visa). Certain religious activities can be performed under a B visa, including private worship, prayer, meditation, informal religious study, and attendance at religious services or conferences in the United States. However, this visa is only appropriate if the individual plans to remain in the United States for a temporary period of time, and if their wages or reimbursement will be paid by their religious group outside the U.S. (versus by a religious employer in the country).

If the religious worker’s salary is to be paid by a nonprofit religious organization in the United States, they must obtain an R-1 visa.

Eligibility requirements for an R-1 visa include the necessity for the immigrant to be a member of a religious denomination that has a legitimate non-profit religious organization in the United States. That organization needs to be in place for at least two years immediately before the filing of the petition. The prospective employer of the religious worker in the U.S. needs to file Form I-129, or the Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker, before the applicant seeks a visa interview. Then the immigrant must complete an online application called Form DS-160 and bring the confirmation page to their visa interview, usually held at the embassy or consulate in the applicant’s home country.