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Understanding the R-1 Visa: A Path for Religious Workers to Serve in the United States

The R-1 visa allows individuals to temporarily come to the United States to work part-time or full-time in a religious capacity as a minister or in a vocation, or employed in a religious occupation at a religious organization.


Who Qualifies for the R-1 Visa? 


Under the R-1 visa, the applicant, the applicant’s prospective employer, and the type of work must meet specific requirements.

Applicant Qualifications

In order to obtain an R-1 visa, an individual must meet several criteria of a religious worker.  In total, a R-1 visa applicant must:

  • Be coming to the United States to work as a minister or in a religious vocation or occupation in the United States; 
  • Have employment at a nonprofit religious organization in the United States or a nonprofit organization that is affiliated with a religious organization in the United States; 
  • Be a member of the same religious denomination as the religious organization the applicant plans to work for in the United States for at least two years prior to that organization filing a petition on the applicant’s behalf; 
  • Work at least part-time (an average of at least 20 hours per week) in the United States; 
  • Work for an employer who files the R-1 non-immigrant petition on the applicant’s behalf; and 
  • Not work in any other capacity except as a religious worker. 

Employer Qualifications


An organization may petition to have a R-1 temporary worker if the organization is either a bona fide non-profit religious organization or a bona fide organization that is affiliated with a religious denomination and is exempt from taxation. 

To qualify as a bona fide non-profit religious organization, the employer must: 

  • Be exempt from federal tax requirements as described in Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986; and 
  • Have a currently valid determination letter from the Internal Revenue Service confirming this exemption for the employer or the employer’s parent organization. 

To qualify as a bona fide organization affiliated with a religious denomination, the employer must: 

  • Be closely associated with the religious denomination;
  • Be exempt from federal tax requirements as described in Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986; and 
  • Have a currently valid determination letter from the Internal Revenue Service confirming this exemption.

Work Qualifications


An individual must be coming to the United States to engage in a religious vocation, religious occupation, or to work as a minister of religion. 

To qualify as a religious vocation, the vocation must:

  • Be a formal lifetime commitment through vows, investitures, ceremonies, or similar indications to a religious way of life

To qualify as a religious occupation, the occupation must: 

  • Have duties that primarily relate to a traditional religious function and be recognized as a religious occupation within the denomination; 
  • Have duties that primarily relate to and clearly involve the inculcation or carrying out the religious creed and beliefs of the denomination; 
  • Not have duties that are primarily administrative or supportive in nature unless the administrative duties are limited and only incidental to religious functions; 
  • Not merely be religious study or training for religious work, though a religious worker may pursue study or training that is incidental to the religious occupation. 

To qualify as a minister of religion, the applicant must: 

  • Be fully authorized by and trained in the religious denomination to conduct religious worship, and perform other duties commonly performed by authorized members of the clergy of the denomination; 
  • Perform activities rationally related to being a minister; 
  • Work solely as a minister in the United States, including any administrative duties incidental to the duties of a minister; 
  • Not be a lay preacher or a person not authorized to perform clergy’s duties. 

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What is the Process to Obtain a R-1 Visa?


Process Of R1 Visa


The process to obtain a R-1 visa involves several steps. Some steps of the process may vary depending on the U.S. Embassy or Consulate where the applicant applies. An applicant must be able to prove by evidence his or her eligibility for the visa.  In order to receive an R-1 visa, the below steps must be followed:

Step One: Employer Files Form I-129


The applicant’s prospective U.S. employer must file Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).  When submitting the petition, the employer must attest and provide evidence that it is either a bona fide non-profit religious organization or a bona fide organization that is affiliated with a religious denomination and is exempt from taxation.  

The employer must also provide evidence of the applicant’s eligibility to receive the R-1 visa, including evidence that the applicant is a minister, if applicable, or will work in a religious vocation or occupation.

To prove that the applicant is a minister, the petitioner must provide evidence, including: 

  • A copy of the applicant’s certificate of ordination or similar documents; 
  • Documents showing that the applicant’s qualifications as a minister are accepted in the religious denomination; 
  • Documents, such as transcripts, that show the applicant has completed any required course of theological education, as is normally required or recognized by the religious denomination, at an accredited theological institution;
  • The denomination’s requirements for ordination to minister, if theological education is not required; 
  • The duties allowed to be performed by virtue of ordination; 
  • The denomination’s levels of ordination, if any; 
  • The applicant’s completion of the denomination’s requirements for ordination. 

To prove that the applicant will working in a religious vocation or occupation, the petitioner must provide evidence, including: 

  • That the applicant is entering the United States to perform a religious vocation or occupation in either a professional or nonprofessional capacity; 
  • That the applicant is qualified for the religious occupation or vocation according to the denomination’s standards. 

Step Two: File Form DS-160 Online 


 After the applicant’s employer files Form I-129, the applicant must submit Form DS-160, Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application and upload a photo that conforms with the U.S. Department of States photograph requirements. 

Step Three: Schedule and Attend Interview at U.S. Embassy or Consulate


After Form DS-160 is submitted, Form I-797 is received, and all application fees are paid, the applicant must schedule an appointment for his or her visa interview at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in the country where the applicant lives.  The applicant will be required to provide ink-free, digital fingerprint scans at the interview.

The applicant must bring certain documents with them to his or her visa interview, including: 

  • A valid passport; 
  • Confirmation page for Form DS-160; 
  • Application fee payment receipt; 
  • Photo conforming to photograph requirements; 
  • Receipt number for approved petition Form I-129;
  • Form I-797, Notice of Action

How Long is the R-1 Visa Valid? 



How Long Is R1 Visa Valid


The initial period of admission under the R-1 visa is for up to 30 months, with subsequent extensions available for up to an additional 30 months.  The total period of stay in the United State cannot exceed five years, or 60 months. 

Can Family of an R-1 Visa Holder Come to the United States? 


The spouse and unmarried children under the age of 21 of an R-1 visa holder may be eligible to come to the United States with the R-1 visa holder under the R-2 visa.  However, the R-2 visa does not authorize family members to work in the United States. 


How Muh Does it Cost to Obtain an R-1 Visa? 


The cost to file Form I-129 is $460.  The cost to file Form DS-160 is $190.  A visa issuance fee may be charged to visa applicants from certain countries.




R-1 visa presents a unique opportunity for individuals in religious roles to contribute to communities in the United States. To qualify, applicants must meet specific criteria and adhere to a defined application process. It is crucial for both the applicant and their employer to furnish accurate documentation demonstrating eligibility for the visa.

It is important to note that the R-1 visa is exclusively reserved for individuals engaged in religious vocations or occupations, such as ministers, and is not intended for general employment purposes.

Upon obtaining an R-1 visa, individuals are permitted to reside in the U.S. for a specified duration, subject to compliance with visa regulations. Additionally, family members may accompany the visa holder under the R-2 visa category, albeit without authorization to seek employment.

In essence, the R-1 visa serves as a conduit for religious practitioners to share their faith and contribute to the fabric of American society. It offers a platform for those committed to their religious calling to positively impact the lives of others within the United States.

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Sweta completed her Masters in Law from the University of California, Los Angeles and her JD from the Faculty of Law, Delhi University in India and has been practicing law for 15+ years getting visas, green cards, and citizenship for 1000+ clients, 100+ companies across 50+ nationalities.

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