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R-1 Visa Overview

The R-1 visa category is available to certain religious workers seeking to work in the U.S. as ministers or in religious vocations or occupations. To qualify as a minister, the foreign national must be fully authorized by the individual’s denomination to conduct religious worship and other duties traditionally performed by clergy. A religious occupation is an activity that relates to a “traditional religious function.” A few examples of religious occupations include liturgical workers, religious instructors, missionaries and religious translators. A religious vocation is defined as “a calling to religious life”, which is evidenced by the demonstration of commitment, such as the taking of vows.

Nuns, monks, and religious brothers and sisters are examples of religious vocations. To be eligible for R-1 status, the candidate must have been a member of a religious denomination having a bona fide nonprofit, religious organization in the U.S. for at least two years immediately preceding the candidate’s request for R-1 classification.

In order to obtain R-1 status, the candidate must be sponsored by a U.S. employer. The R-1 sponsorship process involves the filing of a petition by the employer with USCIS. The petition must include proof of the employer’s tax exempt status, evidence of how it will compensate the candidate through monetary or in-kind compensation (unless the candidate will be self-supporting), and its affiliation with a religious denomination. In addition the petition must include evidence of the candidate’s membership in a religious denomination, job duties and qualifications for the offered position.

Over the past few years, many R-1 petitions have been subjected to lengthy processing times. This is due to the enactment of new regulations and the implementation of enhanced procedures, including inspections, evaluations, verifications, and compliance reviews, as part of a large-scale initiative to combat visa fraud.

Premium processing service for R-1 petitions was suspended on November 28, 2006. However, on July 21, 2009, USCIS resumed premium processing service for R-1 petitions filed by employers who have previously completed a successful on-site inspection at the location where the R-1 candidate will be employed. Premium processing service requires an additional $1,225 filing fee and guarantees a 15 calendar day processing of the petition. Within 15 calendar days, USCIS will issue an approval notice, or if appropriate, a Request for Evidence. A request for premium processing service can be made either at the time of the initial filing or after the petition has been filed.

An R-1 candidate may be admitted for an initial period of stay of up to 30 months and for a total period of up to 5 years.

The spouses and children of R-1 visa holders are eligible for a dependent visa, the R-2 visa. To obtain R-2 status, the dependent must either file an application with USCIS or apply for a visa at an embassy or consulate overseas. R-2 visa holders are not permitted to work, but they may attend school.