Religious visa - R1 Visa for Religious Workers and R2 Visa for Dependents
The R1 visa is a non-immigrant visa that allows religious workers (ministers and persons working in the religious vocation or occupation) to work in the U.S. for a period up to 5 years and eventually apply for a green card for permanent residence.

Religious workers include 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, or their equivalent. The term does not apply to lay preachers.

The R visa may be available for the following individuals:

Ministers
A recognized religious denomination must have authorized the candidate to conduct religious worship and to perform other duties usually performed by authorized members of the clergy of that religion. Licenses, ordination certificates, formal letter of conferral etc. can serve as the evidence of such qualifications. Officers of the Salvation Army, deacons and practitioners of Christian Science may as well be considered ministers.

Workers in a Religious Vocation or Occupation includes the following 2 types of workers:

Professional Workers are the persons that want to work in a religious vocation or occupation that requires a U.S. bachelor degree or its foreign equivalent.

Other Religious Workers are the persons that are working in a religious vocation or occupation.

A religious vocation means a calling to religious life, evidenced by the demonstration of a lifelong commitment, such as taking vows. Examples include nuns, monks, and religious brothers and sisters.

A religious occupation means a habitual engagement in an activity which relates to a traditional religious function. Examples include liturgical workers, religious instructors or cantors, catechists, workers in religious hospitals, missionaries, religious translators, or religious broadcasters. It does not include janitors, maintenance workers, clerks, fund raisers, solicitors of donations, or similar occupations. The activity of a lay-person who will be engaged in a religious occupation must relate to a traditional religious function: i.e., the activity must embody the tenets of the religion and have religious significance, relating primarily, if not exclusively, to matters of the spirit as they apply to the religion.

A religious denomination generally should have a formal code of doctrine and discipline, religious services and ceremonies, some form of ecclesiastical government, a recognized creed and form or worship, religious congregations and established places of worship. However, if an interdenominational religious organization is tax-exempt, it also may be treated as a religious denomination.

If you are located outside the U.S., you can apply directly at the U.S. embassy/consulate for an R visa. It is NOT needed for the sponsoring religious organization to first file the petition using the Form I-129. However, if you are already in the U.S., the religious organization must file the petition for a change of status, extension of stay, or change of employment.

If your sponsor terminates the employment at any time, they are not obliged to pay your airfare to return back to your home country unless they have entered into a contract to do so.

Eligibility
You are eligible to apply for R1 visa if:
  • You are a member of a religious denomination having a bona fide nonprofit religious organization in the U.S.;

  • The religious denomination and its affiliate, if applicable, are exempt from taxation, or the religious denomination qualifies for tax-exempt status;

  • You have been a member of the denomination for two years immediately preceding admission;

  • You are entering the United States solely to carry on the vocation of a minister of that denomination, or, at the request of the organization, the applicant 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

  • You have resided and been physically present outside the United States for the immediate prior year if you had previously spent five years in this classification.

Dependents
Spouse and/or unmarried children under the age of 21 years can get an R2 visa to accompany or join the principal applicant for the duration of the R1 visa. No work is allowed on R2 visa.

Those dependents who want to visit the R1 visa holder for a short duration for vacation can apply for a tourist visa, instead of R2 visa.

Duration
R visa can be issued for 3 years initially and it can be extended for 2 more years, for a total period of 5 years. If the person would like to stay in the U.S. for beyond 5 years on R visa, he/she must reside and be physically present outside the U.S. for 1 year to be eligible for R visa again.

To extend the R visa for 2 more years after initial 3 years, you have to file Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker to apply for an extension of stay. Your accompanying spouse and dependent children must file Form I-539.

A person on an R-1 visa can apply for a green card after being on an R-1 visa for 2 years.

Even if your I-94 date is in the future (the date until which you were originally authorized to stay in the U.S.), if you are no longer performing the same function in the U.S. that you were originally admitted to perform, you are in a violation of legal non-immigrant status and that would result in a termination of the period of authorized stay.

Visa Ineligibility and Waiver
Certain categories of persons are ineligible to receive U.S. visa. If you are ineligible under any of those categories, but are otherwise properly classifiable as a temporary religious worker, you may apply for a waiver of ineligibility and be issued a visa if the waiver is approved. If you are found to be ineligible, the consular officer will advise you of any waivers.