New York Lawyer's Legal Updates

R-1 Non-immigrant Visa For Religious Workers

Author: New York Immigration lawyer Alena Shautsova

Over time, a religious organization may encounter the need for a minister, religious worker in occupation, or religious worker in vocation who is currently stationed overseas. For religious organizations with an already established US bona fide non-profit organization the basic requirements for the proposed beneficiary are as follows:

  • The proposed religious worker must have been a member of the religious organization for the past 2 years without severance.
  • The proposed religious worker must intend to work as a minister, religious worker in occupation, or religious worker in vocation for a minimum of 20 hours per week.

If the aforementioned requirements have been met, the individual may qualify for an R-1 Visa.

The regulations require submission of different evidence depending on the exact qualifications for the visa:

For a minister – A copy of the ordination certificate or equivalent qualifying the minister as per the religious organizations requirements. If the religious organization does not require a completed course of theological study for ordination, the denomination must bring forth evidence of the requirements for ordination with said religious organization, allowed duties after ordination, and completion of the minister’s requirements for said ordination.

For a non immigrant worker in a religious occupation – A list of duties as well as the relation of the duties to religious function. In addition, evidence must be provided portraying the specificity of the occupation to the religious organization.

For non-immigrant workers in a religious vocation – Evidence that the religious organization possesses individuals who dedicate their lives to religious practice and functions.

If the organization has not been recognized as a non for profit religious organization, then the organization first would have to file for the non-for profit, tax exempt status. USCIS issued a memorandum (Yates Memorandum) on December 17, 2003 clarifying the eligibility of different organizations for sponsoring of workers in religious occupations: “Extension of Special Immigrant Religious Worker Program and Clarification of Tax exempt Status Requirements for Religious Organizations”. Also, organizations affiliated with religious denominations may petition for employees as well.

27 January 2016
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