R Visa – Minister, Religious Professional, & Other Religious Workers
Purpose of the R Visa Classification
The R Visa classification provides non-immigrant religious workers the opportunity to work or serve temporarily in the U.S. as ministers of religion, religious professionals, or as other religious workers.
- Prior to the U.S. Immigration Act of 1990, foreign religious workers had to come to the U.S. under the various business visa categories. Many foreign religious workers did not qualify for visas under these categories. The Immigration Act of 1990 provides a specific provision for foreign religious workers to obtain temporary admission into the U.S.
- Unlike many other temporary worker visa classifications, no prior approval is needed from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in order to obtain an R-Visa.
- A foreign religious worker must be a member in the religious denomination for the 2 years immediately prior to the time of his or her application for an R-Visa.
- A foreign religious worker who has spent 5 years in the United States under the R Visa classification may not be readmitted to the United States as an R-Visa Worker unless the religious worker has resided and been physically present outside the United States for the immediate prior year.
- The spouse and unmarried minor children of an R-Visa Worker are entitled to R-2 nonimmigrant classification, subject to the same period of admission and limitations as the R-Visa Worker, if they are accompanying or following to join the R-Visa Worker in the United States.
- Neither the spouse nor the minor children may accept employment.
Points of Interest
The INA provides for a special immigrant religious worker visa. However, special immigrant religious workers must submit a petition to CIS in order to qualify. Two categories of immigrant religious workers under this provision are also set to expire on September 30, 2008. This immigrant visa is also subject to a numerical limitation.
1. Definition of R Visa: Minister, Religious Professional, & Other Religious Workers
Under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) and the immigration regulations, a foreign religious worker may qualify for a non-immigrant R-Visa if:
- The religious worker is member of a religious denomination;
- The religious worker has been a member in the religious denomination for the 2 years immediately preceding the time of his or her application for admission;
- The religious denomination has a bona fide nonprofit, religious organization in the United States;
- The religious worker seeks to enter the United States temporarily;
- The religious worker’s stay in the U.S. will not exceed 5 years; and
- The religious worker is coming to the United States solely:
- To carry on the vocation of a minister of the religious denomination;
- To work for the U.S. religious organization in a professional capacity; or
- To work for the U.S. religious organization in a religious vocation or in a religious occupation.
2. Four R-Visa Categories
Religious Work – Minister
- Foreign religious worker duly authorized by a recognized religious denomination to conduct religious worship and to perform other duties usually performed by authorized members of the clergy of that religion.
- Must be a reasonable connection between the activities performed and the religious calling of the minister.
- Category does not include a lay preacher not authorized to perform such duties.
Professional Religious Worker
- Foreign religious worker performs activities in a religious vocation or occupation that requires a United States baccalaureate degree or a foreign equivalent degree.
- No combination of education and experience, or experience alone, will be allowed to substitute for a baccalaureate degree.
Work In A Religious Occupation
- Foreign religious worker performs an activity that relates to a traditional religious function.
- Examples of persons in religious occupations include, but are not limited to, liturgical workers, religious instructors, religious counselors, cantors, catechists, workers in religious hospitals or religious health care facilities, missionaries, religious translators, or religious broadcasters.
- This group does not include janitors, maintenance workers, clerks, fund raisers, or persons involved solely in the solicitation of donations.
Work In A Religious Vocation
- Foreign religious worker called to religious life as demonstrated by a commitment to a religious denomination, such as the taking of vows.
- Examples of persons with a religious vocation include, but are not limited to, nuns, monks, and religious brothers and sisters.
3. Procedure for R-Visa Status
Application to United States Consulate for R-Visa
- Inspection at a U.S. Port of Entry.
4. Step One: Application to a United States Consulate
Basic application package for a nonimmigrant visa:
- Form DS-156, Nonimmigrant Visa Application;
- Form DS-158, Contact Information and Work History for Nonimmigrant Visa Applicant;
- A valid, unexpired passport;
- Passport-type photograph; and
- Application fee, if any.
Note that males between the age of 16 and 45 must also use Form DS-157.
Evidence that the religious organization qualifies as a non-profit organization, in the form of either documentation showing that it is tax exempt or evidence that it would be tax exempt;
A letter from an authorized official of the religious organization that will be employing the foreign religious worker in the United States. This letter must establish:
- That the foreign and United States religious organizations belong to the same religious denomination, if the religious worker’s membership was maintained outside the United States;
- That immediately prior to the application for the R visa, the foreign religious worker had the required 2 years of membership in the religious denomination;
- Evidence that the religious worker qualifies for one of the four R-Visa categories;
- The arrangements made for compensation for services rendered;
- The name and location of the specific religious organization that the religious worker will be providing services to within the United States; and
- If the alien is to work in a non-ministerial and nonprofessional capacity for a bona fide organization that is affiliated with a religious denomination, the existence of the affiliation.
If the consulate is satisfied that the worker qualifies for an R-Visa, he or she may approve the visa application and will place an R-Visa in the worker’s passport. Once a visa is issued, the worker may travel to the United States.
5. Step Two: Inspection at a U.S. Port of Entry and Admission
Admission of R-Visa Worker.
- If the R-Visa is granted, the R-Visa Worker may be admitted to the United States by an immigration officer at a U.S. port of entry.
- An R-Visa Worker may be admitted to the U.S. for a period of up to 3 years.
- The R-Visa Worker will be issued Form I-94, Arrival-Departure Record, which will state the name and location of the religious organization that the R-Visa Worker will be providing services to in the United States.
Extension of R-Visa Worker’s Stay.
- To obtain an extension of the R-Visa Worker’s stay, the religious organization employing the nonimmigrant religious worker must file Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, along with the appropriate fee.
- The petition must be filed at the Service Center having jurisdiction over the R-Visa Worker’s place of employment.
- An extension may be authorized for a period of up to 2 years. However, the R Visa worker’s total period of stay may not exceed 5 years.
- A petition for an extension of stay must be accompanied by a letter from an authorized official of the religious organization that confirms the worker’s continuing eligibility for classification as an R-1 nonimmigrant.
6. Change of Employers
- An R-Visa Worker may only work for the religious organization that brings him or her to the U.S.
- A different or additional religious organization seeks to employ or engage the services of a religious worker already admitted as an R-Visa Worker, it must file Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, with the appropriate fee.
- The petition must be filed with the Service Center having jurisdiction over the prospective place of employment.
- The petition must also be accompanied by evidence establishing that the foreign religious worker will continue to qualify as an R-Visa religious worker.
- Any unauthorized change to a new religious organization will constitute a failure to maintain status
7. Limitation on Stay & Foreign Residency Requirement
A foreign religious worker who has spent 5 years in the United States under the R Visa classification may not be readmitted to the United States as an R-Visa Worker unless the religious worker has resided and been physically present outside the United States for the immediate prior year, except for brief visits for business or pleasure.
Time spent during visits in the U.S. will not interrupt the one-year period of residence abroad. However, the time spent during the visit in the U.S. does not count toward the one year requirement.
8. Helpful Advice for R Visa Workers
Lay individuals performing clerical-type work with religious organizations will not qualify for an R Visa. However, religious workers in a religious vocation (including, but not limited to nuns, monks, or religious brothers or sisters who take vows) often engage in such occupations and could qualify for the R-Visa classification not by virtue of their occupation, but by virtue of their vocation.
9. For More Information on R Visas