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Religious Visa - R-1 Visa For Religious Workers: Eligibility and Process

If you seek employment in a religious occupation, religious vocation, or as a minister in the United States, the church or religious organization may file a petition to sponsor you for an R-1 visa. Many people obtain R-1 visas through sponsorship by the church after receiving an offer for employment in a religious occupation, in a religious vocation, or as a Minister, in the U.S.

The U.S. government does not place an annual cap or limit on how many R-1 visas can be issued each year. This article discusses the eligibility and process of applying for the R-1 visa.

Can the Church or a Religious Organization Apply for a Visa for Me?

For people employed in a religious occupation or vocation, churches can apply for specific kinds of visas. Churches can even apply for eligible employees to obtain a green card and become permanent residents of this country if certain conditions are first met. An R-1 visa is a non-immigrant (temporary) visa the U.S. government issues to religious workers. The R-1 visa lasts up to 30 months and can be renewed for up to 5 years.

The requirements can be very complex, for example:

  • You need to be a member of the church or religious organization, or at least in the same religious denomination you are applying under for a minimum of two years, and

  • The church or religious organization petitioning to sponsor you must have offered you a job in a religious occupation or vocation.

Types of Workers Who May Be Eligible for an R-1 Visa

Religious workers include ministers of religion who are authorized by a recognized denomination to conduct religious worship and perform duties the clergy typically performs, such as conducting sacraments (or an equivalent). Lay preachers are not included under this term. The following individuals may apply for the R-1 visa:

Ministers (or religious leaders)

A recognized religious denomination must authorize the candidate to conduct religious worship and perform the duties authorized clergy members of that religion perform. Evidence of these qualifications includes ordination certificates, licenses, formal letters of conferral, etc.

Religious Occupations Workers

There are two kinds of workers in a religious vocation or occupation:

  • Professional Workers: These are workers who wish to work in a religious vocation or occupation that calls for a U.S. bachelor's degree or its equivalent abroad.

  • Other Religious Workers: These are people who work in a specific religious vocation or occupation.

A religious vocation refers to a calling to religious life, demonstrated by a lifelong commitment, like taking vows to become a nun, monk, or religious brother or sister. A religious occupation refers to a habitual engagement in an activity relating to a traditional religious function. Examples of religious occupations include religious instructors, religious translators, missionaries, etc.

The R-1 visa for non-immigrant religious workers is meant for people who work in positions directly connected to the church or religious organization's core spiritual activities. Working for a nonprofit organization that is affiliated with a religious denomination in the United States may qualify in some instances.

Are you starting the R-1 visa process? Consult with the Law Office of Jennifer L. Bennett today!


  • Were an official member of a religious denomination deemed a bona fide nonprofit religious organization in the United States for at least two years before a petition is filed on your behalf.

  • Will be employed by a religious organization or other qualifying entity in the U.S.

  • Will work as a Minister or in a religious occupation or religious vocation.

  • Will work in the U.S. for the petitioning church or organization for a minimum of 20 hours per week.

  • Will not work in any other capacity outside of being a religious worker.

  • Will be employed only by the employer who files the petition to classify you as an R-1 non-immigrant.


Family members (spouse and children under the age of 21) may be eligible for R2 status under the primary R-1 visa holder but will not be able to obtain work authorization. R-2 visas are issued with no annual caps for the spouse and unmarried children of R-1 non-immigrant visa holders.

When dependents are involved, the process begins with the church or religious organization petitioning for an R-1 visa for the employee. Once secured, previously identified family members can petition for an R-2 visa through the U.S. consulate in their home country.


The R-1 visa may be granted for a total duration of 5 years but is typically granted for 30 months and then must be renewed for another 30 months. It is best to consult with our office to establish if an R-1 visa is the best path and optimal for your specific situation.

R-1 and R-2 visas are non-immigrant visas for religious workers and their families. There are no immediate direct pathways to citizenship through these non-immigrant visas. However, after two years of employment, the Church can sponsor the worker as an immigrant so that the worker may become a permanent resident. Individuals looking to extend their stay in the country should talk with an immigration lawyer about possible options.


Religious organizations like churches and nonprofits often extend their services around the globe. And in many cases, foreigners may wish to come to the United States to fulfill duties within the religious organization. Temporary R-1 visas exist for this purpose and allow religious workers to come to the U.S. for work with their religious organization. The process for an R-1 non-immigrant visa may appear simple at a glance, but can be very complicated. Qualified legal counsel that knows the ins and outs of the U.S. immigration system can help you prepare.

If you are going through the R-1 visa process, you may wish to seek legal counsel. The Law Office of Jennifer L. Bennett will help guide you through this complicated process. Schedule an appointment with our firm to learn more about your immigrantion options today.

Do you have more questions about the R-1 visa process? Consult with the Law Office of Jennifer L. Bennett today!

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