Religious Worker Visa

FAQ

Overview

Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) 101(a)(15)(R) provides a nonimmigrant visa category "R" for individuals seeking to enter the United States to work in a religious capacity on a temporary basis.

Qualifications

Religious workers include persons authorized by a recognized entity to conduct religious worship and undertake other duties usually performed by authorized members of the clergy of that religion, and workers engaging in a religious vocation or occupation.

  • The applicant must be a member of a religious denomination recognized as a bona fide nonprofit religious organization in the U.S.;
  • The religious denomination and its affiliate, if applicable, are either exempt from taxation or qualifies for tax-exempt status; and
  • The applicant has been (a) a member of the denomination for two years immediately preceding applying for religious worker status; (b) planning to work as a minister of that denomination, or in a religious occupation or vocation for a bona fide, non-profit religious organization (or a tax-exempt affiliate of such an organization );  (c) The applicant has resided and been physically present outside the U.S. for the immediate prior year, if he or she has previously spent five years in this category.  There is no requirement that individuals applying for R visas have a residence abroad that they have no intention of abandoning.  However, they must intend to depart the U.S. at the end of their lawful status, absent specific indications or evidence to the contrary.
Petitions

The applicant's prospective employer must file Form I-129, Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker, with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). For more detailed information regarding the filing of Form I-129, as well as requirements, please refer to the USCIS R-1 Temporary Nonimmigrant Religious Worker webpage.

Important Note: Prospective employers should file the petition as soon as possible (but not more than 6 months before the proposed employment will begin) to provide adequate time for petition and subsequent visa processing.

The petition must be approved by USCIS before the prospective religious worker can apply for a visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate abroad. When the petition is approved, the employer or agent is sent a Notice of Action, Form I-797, which serves as the petition approval notification. Petition approval is verified through the Department of State's Petition Information Management Service (PIMS) at the visa applicant’s interview. Visa applicants must bring the approved I-129 petition receipt number to the interview, so that petition approval can be verified. Approval of a petition does not guarantee visa issuance to an applicant found to be ineligible under U.S. immigration law.

Application Items

Each applicant for an R visa must submit the following:

  • A Nonimmigrant Visa Electronic Application (DS-160) Form. Visit the DS-160 webpage for more information.
  • A passport valid for travel to the United States with a validity date at least six months beyond the applicant's intended period of stay in the United States (unless country-specific agreements provide exemptions). If more than one person is included in the passport, each person desiring a visa must submit an application.
  • One (1) 2x2 photograph.
  • A receipt showing payment of the non-refundable nonimmigrant visa application processing fee (the MRV fee) of US$190, paid in local currency. Please visit this page for information about paying this fee. If the visa is issued, there may be an additional visa issuance reciprocity fee, depending on the applicant's nationality. Please consult the Visa Reciprocity Tables to find out if you must pay a visa issuance reciprocity fee and what the fee amount is.
  • The receipt number printed on the approved I-129 petition. (Note: Form I-797 is no longer required for the interview.)

In addition to these items, every applicant must present an interview appointment letter confirming that they have booked an appointment through this service. Applicants may also bring whatever supporting documents they feel are necessary to support the information they are providing to the consular officer, for example evidence which shows the purpose of the trip, intent to depart the United States, and arrangements made to cover the costs of the trip. Those applicants who do not have sufficient funds to support themselves while in the U.S. must present convincing evidence that an interested person will provide support. Depending on individual circumstances, applicants may provide other documentation substantiating the trip's purpose and specifying the nature of binding obligations, such as family ties or employment, which would compel their return abroad.

Supporting documents are only one of many factors a consular officer will consider in your interview. Consular officers look at each application individually and consider professional, social, cultural and other factors. Consular officers may consider the applicant’s specific intentions, family situations, and long-range plans and prospects within his or her country of residence. Each case is examined individually and is accorded every consideration under the law.

Caution: Do not present false documents. Fraud or misrepresentation can result in permanent visa ineligibility. If confidentiality is of concern, the applicant should bring the documents to the Embassy in a sealed envelope. The Embassy will not make this information available to anyone and will respect the confidentiality of the information.

Supporting Documents
  • A letter from an authorized official of the specific unit of the employing organization certifying that if the applicant's religious membership was maintained, in whole or in part, outside the United States, the foreign and United States religious organizations belong to the same religious denomination; and that, immediately prior to the application for the R visa, the alien has been a member of the religious denomination for the required two- year period;
  • If the applicant is a minister, he or she is authorized to conduct religious worship for that denomination. The duties should be described in detail; or
  • If the applicant is a religious professional, he or she has at least a baccalaureate degree or its equivalent, and that such a degree is required for entry into the religious profession; or
  • If the applicant is to work in a nonprofessional vocation or occupation, he or she is qualified if the type of work to be done relates to a traditional religious function;
  • The arrangements for remuneration, including the amount and source of salary, other types of compensation such as food and housing, and any other benefits to which a monetary value may be affixed, and a statement whether such remuneration shall be in exchange for services rendered;
  • The name and location of the specific organizational unit of the religious denomination or affiliate for which the applicant will be providing services;
  • If the alien is to work for an organization that is affiliated with a religious denomination, a description of the nature of the relationship between the two organizations;
  • Evidence of the religious organization's assets and methods of operation; and
  • The organization's papers of incorporation under applicable state law.

For more information about visas for religious workers, visit the Department of State's website.