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If you plan to come to the United States temporarily to work on a religious vocation or occupation soon, you should know what an R type visa is and how to apply for it. 

Our New Jersey immigration lawyers have over 10 years helping immigrants in visa application procedures. Call the Curbelo Law offices in Ridgewood and Newark, New Jersey today and visit us in person by appointment..

Everything you need to know in 2024 about the r type visa for religious workers in the USA

The R visa is a type of American non-immigrant visa that is only available to noncitizens who will temporarily perform religious work in the United States. 

Those who do not travel for religious work occupations and/or are only devoted to one religion, will not be able to qualify for the visa.

Religious workers must maintain the intent to depart the US at the end of their activity. However, they may apply to USCIS for a nonimmigrant petition, change their status, or extension of stay. As long as a petition is filed and approved by USCIS. 

What Are The Benefits Of An R Visa?

Obtaining an R visa for religious workers grants a series of benefits, among which we find the following:

  • Period of stay in the country. Qualified applicants and their dependents may remain in the US for an initial period of 30 months. In addition, it is possible to request a period of extension of stay.
  • Entry of immediate relatives. Spouses and children may accompany you if they are eligible for an R-2 visa.
  • Travel freely around the country. Eligible applicants may travel without restrictions within the US.
  • Work legally. This visa allows the applicant to work legally in the country, although the work must be of a religious and temporary nature. 
how to get a green card

An important benefit of the R-1 visa is that holders can apply for permanent residence. If you manage to obtain a Green Card, after a few years in the US you may be eligible for US citizenship

Is It Possible To Obtain A Green Card With The R-1 Visa?

You can become a permanent resident if you have the R-1 visa through the usual methods such as:

Another way would be through a change of status to a dual intent visa, such as the H-1B visa or the EB-4 visa.

religious workers in the united states

How Much Does The R Visa Cost For Religious Workers?

The cost of the R-1 visa is $190. The fee must be paid to proceed with your application. Additionally, other fees may apply depending on the country’s relationship with the United States.

Once you have completed all the corresponding payments, you must keep the receipts of each one as proof and attach them to your documentation.

As of December 19, 2019, all applicants with Italian nationality and their spouses and children of Italian nationality for the R-1 visa application, must pay a reciprocity fee of $129 per person. It must be paid in the consular section at the time of issuance.

Can I Work With The R Visa?

Aliens with an R-1 visa may work in the United States only in jobs of a religious nature and for the duration of their visa. Dependents of the R-2 visa holder are not authorized to work in any type of occupation.

Individuals who work in the US without a permit to do so will be considered illegal. You can visit our article dedicated to finding a job in the United States while being illegal to find more information about it.

Requirements For A Religious Visa In The United States

To obtain the type R visa, you must meet the following eligibility requirements for the application:

  • Be a member of a recognized non-profit religious organization in the US.
  • Be a religious authority (minister, pastor or priest).
  • The religious organization is authorized for a tax exemption.
  • You have been a member of the religious organization for at least 2 years before applying for the R visa.
  • You intend to leave the US at or before the end of your visa expiration date.
  • If you are a part-time religious worker, you must work a minimum of 20 hours per week.
  • If you have previously resided for 5 years in religious worker status, you must have been physically outside the US for at least 1 year.
  • If you perform your work in a non-professional vocational setting, you must be qualified to perform your role according to the religious organization in which you are working.
  • Documentary evidence showing the assets owned by the religious organization and/or the methods of financial operation.
r visas for nuns in the united states

What Is A Religious Occupation?

Religious occupations are positions with duties that relate to a traditional religious role. An example is: Members of the clergy or other religious workers.

The religious occupations eligible for the R visa are:

  • Clergy: Ministers, priests, Buddhist monks, deacons, rabbis, among others.
  • Other religious workers: Instructors, counselors, missionaries, religious orators, singers, translators, among others.

USCIS will not consider workers with administrative or support positions for an R visa, these are:

  • Doorman.
  • Students or apprentices.
  • Administrative employees.
  • Maintenance workers.
  • Fundraisers.

How Does The US Government Define A Religion?

USCIS defines religion as a group of people governed by an ecclesiastical administration. The members of the organization must agree on one of the following requirements:

  • Shared beliefs.
  • Code of discipline or common doctrine.
  • Set of ceremonies and services.
  • Places of worship and congregation.
  • A common worship system.

How To Get The R Visa?

To obtain the R type visa, a US employer is required to file with USCIS a petition on behalf of the applicant using Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker. In addition:

  • The applicant (employer) must submit evidence of the eligibility of the beneficiary (worker) of the visa, showing that they meet all the requirements imposed by USCIS in Volume 2, Part O, of the Policy Manual.
  • If one of the requirements imposed by USCIS represents a substantial tax liability for the religious organization, it is possible to request an exemption thanks to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act known as RFRA.

You must provide a copy of all supporting documents and Form I-129 to USCIS. Failure to do so could result in the Department of State delaying the issuance of your visa.

The I-129 form must be approved before you apply for the R visa at the US embassy or consulate. A notice known as a notice of action will be sent to your employer, which will notify you of your approval.

Please note that approval of the petition does not guarantee that you will receive an R visa if you are deemed inadmissible under US immigration law.

Documents To Apply For An R Visa

To apply for an R visa, you will need to submit the following documents:

  • Form DS-160 confirmation page.
  • Valid passport.
  • Receipt number that appears on the I-129 form.
  • 2 photographs size 2×2 inches.
  • Original civil documents or certified copies, such as:
    • Birth Certificate.
    • Marriage certificate (if applicable).
    • Some identity document from your country of origin.
  • Financial sponsorship.
  • Recent medical exams.

Please note that all documents you submit must be duly translated into English. The interpreter in charge of carrying out said translation must be one qualified to do so.

Additional Documentation For The Religious Visa Interview

You may also need to submit some additional documents for your interview, such as the following:

  • Letter from an authorized official of the religious organization that is employing you certifying that your religious membership was maintained entirely or partly while being outside the US. You must also show that you have been a member of the religious organization for the required two-year period.
  • If you are a minister, you must be authorized to lead a religious service or ceremony. All your tasks must be described in detail.
  • If you are a religious professional, you must submit at least a bachelor’s degree or its equivalent.
  • If you work in a non-professional vocation or occupation, you must show that you are qualified if the role to be performed is related to a traditional religious activity.
  • Documentation and papers of the religious organization.
  • Evidence of religious organization assets.
  • Name and location of the religious organizational unit. 
  • If you will be working for a religiously affiliated organization, you must submit a description of the nature of the relationship between the two organizations. 

You should note that you will not need to submit any false documents or this could make you permanently ineligible for the visa. If you are concerned about the confidentiality of the documents, you can submit them in a sealed envelope.

The US embassy or consulate will not disclose your information to anyone and will respect your confidentiality. 

Who Is Eligible For An R Visa?

To be eligible for an R visa, you must be a religious worker in any legitimate religious organization or cult. Members of a religious denomination seeking temporary admission to the US for a short period of time may be eligible for the B-1 type of visa

Spouses and unmarried sons and daughters under the age of 21 of the religious worker may apply for an R-2 visa. Those eligible for an R-2 visa are not authorized to accept employment under this category.

What are the different types of visas in U. S.

In addition to knowing what an R type visa is for religious workers, you may be interested in obtaining general information about the main types of American visas.

Pre-Screening For Eligibility

USCIS may conduct an inspection of the religious organization before approving the applicant of any application. The religious organization shall provide the following requirements for inspection:

  • The physical address where the beneficiary will work. 
  • The working hours, salary and responsibilities of the beneficiary.

In the event that USCIS suspects any type of fraud or that the petitioning organization has made substantial changes, USCIS will maintain local monitoring to ensure that this organization does not cause undue delays in the process.

What Happens After The R Visa Is Approved?

After USCIS approves your petition, the consular office will determine if the beneficiary is eligible for the R-1 visa. CBP will determine if the beneficiary can be admitted to the US when they arrive at the port of entry.

If I Am From Canada, Do I Need A Religious Visa?

Citizens of Canada and Bermuda do not need an R visa to enter the US as religious workers. But a USCIS approved temporary worker petition is required.

Modifications For Beneficiaries Of A Religious Type R Visa

Religious workers with an R visa will be able to change employers or place of employment as long as they meet the necessary requirements to do so.

For Religious Employer Changes

If a religious worker changed jobs, they must inform USCIS as soon as possible, but no later than a maximum of 14 days. They will need to file a new Form I-129 accompanied by a certification and supporting evidence.

Applicants must also notify USCIS of any termination of R-1 visa employment. You may contact USCIS at the following addresses:

  • Email:
  • Mail: US Department of Homeland Security

                        US Citizenship and Immigration Services

                        California Service Center

                        Attn: BCU Section Chief

                        PO Box 30050

                        Laguna Niguel, CA 92607-3004

For Workplace changes

If there are changes to the terms and conditions of employment, you will need to file a modified petition and receive approval before moving to a new workplace location.

How Long Can I Stay In The United States As an R Visa holder?

The initial admission stay for R-1 visa holders is up to 30 months. The total period of stay in the US cannot exceed 5 years (60 months). 

If you obtain a Form I-94, Arrival/Departure Record issued by the United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and you exceed the maximum time of the initial admission period, you must inform the CBP that you issued a form I- 94.

religious type r visa

If you need a stay longer than the 30 months that the initial admission period gives you, you can apply for a status exemption before the period ends.

Please note that before applying for a new R-1 visa, you must have lived outside the US for at least 1 year. This time limit does not apply to:

  • Religious workers who did not reside continuously in the US and their employment was temporary, for a period of 6 months or less than 1 year.
  • Overseas religious workers who commute to the US for part-time jobs.

How Long Does It Take To Get The R Visa?

Getting the R-1 visa approved takes time. After the employer files the petition, USCIS takes about 6 months to respond. This period of time may depend on whether USCIS must visit the organization’s facilities.

If USCIS has previously visited the religious location and approved it, then “premium processing” may be available to you through Form I-907, Request for Premium Processing for an additional fee of $1,500.

Due to premium processing, you will receive an R visa response in approximately 2 weeks. If premium processing is not available, after USCIS approves the petition, the visa could take approximately another 2-3 months to process.

The total processing time for the R-1 visa could take 8-9 months without premium processing by USCIS.

Can I Renew My Religious Visa?

You can renew your religious visa, the process for this is the same as the one you used to apply for it for the first time. 

Some of the applicants seeking to renew their visas may become eligible for the Interview Waiver Program (IWP). This allows people applying for a renewal to not be required to be interviewed in person by a US consular officer.

Do I Need To Attend The Interview To Obtain The Religious Visa?

All nonimmigrant visa applicants between the ages of 14 and 79 must attend an interview with a US embassy or consulate officer.

You must schedule the interview. It is recommended that you schedule your interview as soon as possible to avoid long wait times as the embassy can be very busy.

Once you complete the scheduling, you will receive a confirmation letter from the embassy or consulate showing the time of the interview.

What Happens If I Am Denied My Religious Visa?

If you are denied an R visa under section 214(b), you can reapply for one. As long as you believe the circumstances have changed since the original application.

Please note that attempted fraud or the presence of false documents would lead to a permanent visa denial or ban on entry to the US.

Immigration Lawyers To Apply For A Religious Visa

Now you know what a type R visa is and everything that surrounds the process for religious workers in the US. If you require the help of an expert lawyer in applications for a type R visa, you can contact us for a consultation by phone, email, online or in person. Our Latino experts in New Jersey will provide you with the advice you require. 

The firm will do everything on its hand to find a solution to your situation so you can obtain your religious visa or meet your requirements.