What is an R1 Visa and Who Qualifies?

R1 is visas are specifically for foreign workers coming to the US to perform duties of a religious worker. Applicants must prove that

i) they are a member of a religious denomination for at least 2 years,

ii) who will work at a qualified organization,

iii) as either a minister, a religious professional, or in another religious vocation.

“Religious denomination” is defined as a religious group or community of believers having some form of ecclesiastical government, a creed or statement of faith, some form of worship, a formal or informal code of doctrine and discipline, religious services and ceremonies, established places of religious worship, or comparable indicia of a bona fide religious denomination. The definition is not narrowly construed. For example, being a member of a Buddhist monastery would be considered for membership of a religious denomination. Even a tax-exempt inter-denominational religious organization may be treated as a religious denomination. Membership duration may be established by sworn statements from other members.

A qualified organization would be a non-profit religious organization in the United States, meaning that the organization either a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) religious organization, or that it would be eligible for such an exemption if it applied.

The most typical R1 worker is a “minister,” which is defined as a person authorized by a denomination to perform religious worship. An authorizing official of the denomination in the US must declare the worker’s qualifications; therefore, a lay preacher can not be authorized.

A “religious professionals” is an individual who will work in a professional capacity in a religious vocation or occupation. The key consideration is “professional capacity,” meaning that the religious vocation requires at least a US Bachelor’s degree or foreign equivalent for entry into the religious profession. Work experience can be given consideration to make up for a lack of formal education.

Finally, “other religious workers” include “religious occupation workers” which are those who perform a traditional religious function, which may include religious instructors, missionaries, translators, and religious health care workers. Donation solicitors, clerks, or any other jobs which are not inherently religious in nature, are not qualified. Religious occupation workers may be employed by non-profit organizations specifically affiliated with a religious organization. “Religious vocational workers” are also qualified, however, even if such a worker’s job is not inherent in nature. “Religious vocation” means that the person has committed themselves to a calling to religious life based on a specific demonstration of religious commitment. Formally taking vows, for example, would qualify. Monks or nuns serving their church are typical examples of religious vocation workers.

When can I Obtain an R1 Visa?

Unlike H-1B visas , there is no quota on the number of R-1 visas which may be issued every year, therefore it can be obtained any time of the year. Premium processing, in which the petition will be processed within 15 calendar days, is also available.

What are the Advantages and Limitations of an R1?

An advantage of the R-1 visa over work visas like H-1B is that it does not necessarily require any specific educational background, unless you are seeking admission as a religious professional. You may also travel in and out of the US or remain in the US continuously until your R-1 visa expires. The R-1 visa may initially be valid up to 30 months, with the possibility of a single 30 month extension. The R-1 visa is a “semi-dual intent” visa. When obtaining the visa from a US consulate or embassy, the R-1 visa holder should not express intent to immigration, but does not necessarily have to maintain a foreign residence. R-1 visas may be extended even if there is a green card petition, and R-1 may be considered a path to a green card where an EB-4 petition for a religious worker is filed.

There is a 5 year limit on R-1 status, unless if the employment is seasonal for no more than a 6 month duration per year. After the 5 year limit is met, the R-1 worker would have to leave for 1 year before readmission. Another limitation is that dependents in the US are able to obtain work authorization.

What is the Attorney’s Role in an R1 Petition?

Establishing eligibility for R-1 visas can be a challenge, especially in cases involving religious professionals, religious occupation workers, and religious vocation workers. Even in cases where a petition includes the necessary documents, they must be presented in a logically organized format so that the immigration officer reviewing the case is lead to make a favorable decision, particularly when the denomination is not very mainstream. Knowledge of what the immigration service or department of state expects to receive from the petitioner is essential to success.

Contact Us

To discuss R1 visa petitions and other alternatives with an experienced immigration lawyer from the Shah Peerally Law Group, feel free to contact us by email or call us at 510-742-5887.


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R-1/EB4 Testimonial

“The USCIS rejected my application form 1-360 for Religious worker visa after they had initially approved the 1485. I appealed the decission and was refused by the Board of Appeals. I decided to make a fresh application and then find Law firm through the internent. He handled all the procedures from the begining. The sfaff appointed for the case was very thorough and she handled the process effeciently and very effective. They were very professional and always personally available thougout the period of the case. They dealt with the Notice of Intention to deny (NOID) timely and effectively. The petition has now been approved within one year. I will like to express my gratitude to Mr Shah and his staff and will I recommend their service to any one who may need to them.

Thank you. – Abraham O.

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