Are you an immigrant who is employed at a vocation, ministry, or another religious organization within the United States, and you are looking to gain a green card as a worker of a religious occupation? Your church or religious group may be able to sponsor you by filing a petition for an R-1 visa.

There is no limit or annual cap placed by the United States government for the amount of R-1 visas issued yearly. It is possible to obtain a green card through church sponsorship upon receiving an offer to be employed by the church.

What Is an R-1 Visa?

Through the United States immigration code, migrants are given a way for ministers and clergy members to perform their different religious faiths in the U.S. via an R-1 visa. The intention of the R-1 visa is to provide a benefit to vocational ministers of any established faith that has a presence in the U.S. One important note regarding this visa is that it is only created for ministers and not for church staff that a religious institution might hire in a non-ministerial role, such as a janitor or an accountant.

An immigrant who holds an R-1 visa cannot work in any other employment area and is only allowed to pursue training or education in the U.S. if it is related to the religious career they seek. This visa allows United States ministers to work for their chosen denomination for two and a half years and up to five.

R-1 visa holders typically must apply for their lawful permanent residency and gain derivative visas, also known as R-2 visas. R-2 visas held by qualifying dependents and spouses enable them to accompany the R-1 visa holder to the U.S. An immigration attorney can assist you with this process.

Who Qualifies for an R-1 Visa?

Workers employed to do religious work include ministers of a recognized denomination authorized to conduct religious worship and carry out the duties that a clergyman typically performs, including sacraments. Lay leaders do not qualify under this definition. The following religious workers may qualify for the R-1 visa:

Ministers and Other Religious Leaders

A legally recognized religious denomination must authorize the candidate to perform religious worship and carry out the duties typically performed by clergypersons for that religion. Evidence of these qualifications must be provided, including licenses, formal letters of conferral, and ordination certificates.

Workers of Religious Occupations

Workers of religious occupations include those wanting to work under a religious profession or a vocation that requires a United States bachelor’s degree or an equivalent from abroad.

Other religious workers can qualify if they are employed in a particular religious occupation or vocation. A religious vocation is defined as a calling to participate in a religious life, which is demonstrated by a lifelong commitment. This includes vows to become a monk, religious sister, brother, or nun.

A religious occupation is an engagement in habitual activity related to a traditional religious act. Such acts of religious occupations can include religious translators, missionaries, and instructors.

R-1 Visa Requirements

In addition to the above information, the visa applicant must receive sponsorship from their religious denomination and prove that they can meet the following:

  • Belong to a religious denomination that holds an active tax-exempt, nonprofit religious organization in the United States;
  • Be part of this denomination for no less than two years directly leading up to the application time;
  • Work for twenty hours a week on average;
  • Desire to gain residency in the U.S. for the purpose of serving in a vocational ministerial role with the request from the applicant’s denomination.

Proceeding from R-1 Visa Status to Permanent Residence

It is important to note that an immigrant does not need to first apply for an R-1 visa before applying for a green card. If the immigrant has gained their qualifying employment experience for two years abroad as a religious worker, they can apply for the green card directly. However, it might be faster to get an R-1 visa to get the immigrant here initially while they pursue the green card.

The employer will need to file the I-360 petition, attesting to detailed information and documenting nonprofit status, along with the ability to pay the employee. They will also need to submit evidence of the employee’s membership of the religious denomination, along with copies of ordination and educational documentation, proof of two years of experience, and a filing fee of $435.

Can I Apply for a Green Card through an R-1 Visa?

For a United States worker holding an R-1 visa, serving as a minister, or in a religious occupation or vocation, getting a green card to become a United States lawful permanent resident is straightforward. There are similar requirements for obtaining a green card as for obtaining an R-1 visa.

The R-1 visa gives an easier way for foreigners to gain the two years of required work experience in the U.S.

Seek Legal Counsel if You Are Looking to Obtain an R-1 Visa

Religious organizations, like nonprofits or churches, may extend their services worldwide. A foreigner may choose to come to the U.S. to fulfill duties that the religious organization needs. Temporary R-1 visas are available for this purpose and allow religious workers to enter the United States, with the opportunity to become permanent residents later.

While applying for a non-immigrant R-1 visa may seem simple, complications can arise. The American Immigration Law Group understands the ins and outs of the United States immigration laws and can guide you through this confusing process. Contact us today at 314-416-8000 or online to schedule a consultation to discuss how we can help.