R Visas for Religious Workers


Many people are unaware that religious workers can qualify for short-term R visas to work in the United States.

According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), an R-1 visa holder is a foreign national who arrives in the United States to be employed as a minister or in another religious vocation on a temporary basis. It’s a short-term visa. The religious workers who benefit from R visas must work at least 20 hours a week. They must be employed by:

  • A religious body or organization authorized by a group tax exemption holder to use its group tax exemption; or
  • A non-profit religious organization based her in the United States;
  • A non-profit religious organization that has an affiliation with a religious denomination in the United States.

visa application

R visas benefit religious workers

R visas were set up under federal law in the Immigration and Nationality Act I.N.A. § 101(a). While many visas have quotas, there is no annual limit on the number of people who can receive these visas.

Key Features of R Visas

  • As a qualifying religious worker, you can work in the United States for the R sponsor. The worker’s sponsor files a visa petition with the immigration authorities.
  • You are not able to change jobs in the United States, even if you want to move to another religious job. You must get a new visa first.
  • It takes a considerable amount of time to issue an initial R-1 visa. Part of the process involves a site visit. However, premium processing is available to organizations if there has been a successful site visit in the previous five years.
  • The holder of an R visa can travel to and from the United States or stay continuously as long as his or her R visa stamp and status remain valid.
  • Your initial R visa will be granted for up to 30 months. However, R visa recipients have the ability to stay considerably longer. Extensions are available for up to five years. If you spend time outside the U.S. this does not count toward the maximum stay in the country. However, the R-1 worker must be able to prove the length of the absence.
  • A spouse and unmarried children under the age of 21 may be granted R-2 visas to accompany the primary visa holder, but they may not accept employment in the United States.
  • R-1 visas can be issued both to members of the clergy and to lay religious workers.

R-2 Visas for Family Members of R-1 Visa Holders

Spouses or unmarried children under 21 of R-1 visa holders may qualify for an R-2 visa to join the religious worker over the duration of his or her stay in the United States.

There is no cap on the number of annual visas issued under the R-2 category.

To obtain an R-1 visa, your parent or spouse has to be a qualifying religious worker who has been a member of a legitimate religious denomination for the previous two years.

Applying for visas requires mountains of paperwork and can be overwhelming. Our Austin visa attorneys can take the burden off your shoulders.  Call us at  (512) 399-2311.

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