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R-1 Temporary Religious Workers

The R-1 nonimmigrant classification is available for foreign nationals who are coming to the United States temporarily to be employed at least part time (minimum of 20 hours per week) by a non-profit religious organization in the United States or an organization which is affiliated with the religious denomination in the United States in order to work as a minister or in another religious vocation or occupation.

A U.S. non-profit religious organization (or organization affiliated with the religious denomination) may file a petition for R-1 status on behalf of a qualified foreign national minister or religious worker. In order to receive R-1 status, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) must approve an R-1 petition. If the R-1 foreign national is overseas, once USCIS has approved the R-1 petition, the foreign national may apply for an R-1 visa abroad in order to enter the United States in R-1 status.

The basic requirements for an R-1 Petition include:

  1. The petitioner must be a member of a religious denomination having a bona fide non-profit religious organization in the U.S.;
  2. The religious denomination and its affiliate, if applicable, are exempt from taxation, or the religious denomination qualifies for tax - exempt status;
  3. The foreign national has been a member of the denomination for two years immediately preceding admission;
  4. The foreign national is entering the United States solely to carry on the vocation of a minister of that denomination, or, at the request of the organization, the foreign national is entering the United States to work in a religious vocation or occupation for the denomination or for an organization affiliated with the denomination, whether in a professional capacity or not; and 
  5. The foreign national has resided and been physically present outside the United States for the immediate prior year if he or she has previously spent five (5) years in this classification. 

The approval period is limited to 30 months for each petition with a 30 month extension for up to five (5) years of eligibility.    Approval of the R-1 petition may require that a site visit occur by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)’s Fraud Detection and National Security (FDNS) unit to the sponsoring organization’s location to verify the facts of the R-1 petition.

The spouse and children of an R-1 Worker are also eligible for entry into the United States on R-2, but no work is authorized for the R-2 family.   Children on R-2 Status are eligible to attend school in the United States.

Lawful Permanent Residence for Religious Workers

In addition to the Temporary Non-Immigrant R-1 Category, there is also a Permanent Residency Option for Religious Workers.

An immigrant religious worker falls into a special visa preference category (Employment Based – 4th Preference).

An immigrant religious worker is a foreign national who, for the past two years, has been a member of a religious denomination which has a bona fide, non-profit religious organization in the United States or foreign national who has been carrying on the vocation or professional work, continuously for the past two years, and who seeks to enter the United States solely to work in that profession.

Professional work may include:

  1. Work as a minister of a denomination;
  2. Work in a professional capacity in a religious vocation or occupation for that organization; or
  3. Work in a religious vocation or occupation for the organization or its non-profit affiliate.

Approval of the Immigrant Petition requires that a site visit occur by the Immigration Service (FDNS) to the sponsoring organizations location to verify the facts of the Petition.
The family (spouse and children under 21) is also eligible to join the primary immigrant.

For more information on the temporary and permanent residency options for religious workers, please contact Kolko & Casey, P.C. to schedule a consultation.

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Kolko & Casey, P.C. is a full service immigration and naturalization law firm providing professional legal services to individuals and businesses throughout Colorado, the Rocky Mountain West, the United States, and the World. Our professional staff speaks English, Spanish, Korean, and Portuguese and we can arrange for translators in any other language.