How to Apply for an R-1 visa for Religious Workers?


Share this on:

Table of Contents

What is an R-1 Visa?
Eligibility Criteria for R-1 Visa
Step-by-Step Process to Apply for an R-1 Visa
Required Documentation
Common Challenges and How to Overcome Them
Benefits of the R-1 Visa

Applying for an R-1 visa can be a transformative step for religious workers seeking to come to the United States to perform duties for a religious organization. This visa type is specifically tailored for individuals employed by a nonprofit religious organization in the U.S. in a religious capacity.

Whether you’re a minister, priest, monk, or a religious professional, the R-1 visa can be your gateway to serving your community in the U.S. This blog will walk you through the R-1 visa application process, eligibility criteria, required documentation, and tips for a successful application. 

What is an R-1 Visa?

The R-1 visa is a non-immigrant visa specifically designed for foreign nationals seeking to enter the U.S. to work in a religious capacity. This visa is granted to individuals who are ministers, persons working in a professional capacity in a religious vocation or occupation, or those performing religious duties for a non-profit religious organization in the United States. Let’s look at some key features of R-1 visa:

  • Validity

The R-1 visa is initially granted for up to 30 months (2.5 years) and can be extended for an additional 30 months, totaling a maximum stay of 5 years.

  • Employer-Specific

The visa is tied to the sponsoring religious organization. Changing employers requires a new petition and visa application.

  • Family Members

Spouses and unmarried children under 21 years of age can accompany the visa holder under the R-2 visa category. However, R-2 visa holders are not permitted to work in the U.S.

Eligibility Criteria for R-1 Visa

To qualify for an R-1 visa, both the applicant and the sponsoring religious organization must meet specific criteria:

For the Religious Worker:

  • Membership in the Denomination

The applicant must have been a member of the same religious denomination as the U.S. organization for at least two years immediately preceding the application.

  • Intent to Work in Religious Capacity

The individual must intend to work as a minister, in a religious vocation, or in a religious occupation.

  • Full-Time Position

The work should be on a full-time basis, which means working at least 20 hours per week.

For the Religious Organization:

  • Non-Profit Status

The organization must be a bona fide non-profit religious organization in the U.S.

  • Eligibility Documentation

The organization must provide documentation confirming its religious nature and non-profit status.

  • Ability to Pay

The organization must prove it can financially support the worker.

Step-by-Step Process to Apply for an R-1 Visa

Applying for an R-1 visa involves several stages, from employer petition to consular processing or adjustment of status within the U.S.

Step 1: Employer Files Form I-129

The application process begins with the U.S. religious organization submitting Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). This petition is essential as it establishes the eligibility of both the employer and the employee. Let’s look at the key points of form I-129.

  • Documentation

Include evidence of the organization’s non-profit status, such as IRS 501(c)(3) determination letter, and the worker’s qualifications.

  • Detailed Job Description

Provide a comprehensive job description outlining the religious duties and the qualifications required.

  • Proof of Membership

Include evidence of the worker’s membership in the denomination for at least two years preceding the application.

Step 2: USCIS Review and Approval

After the Form I-129 is filed, USCIS reviews the petition. This process includes verifying the legitimacy of the religious organization, the qualifications of the worker, and the compliance with all regulatory requirements.

Step 3: Consular Processing or Change of Status

Upon approval of the Form I-129, the next steps depend on whether the applicant is inside or outside the U.S.

For Applicants Outside the U.S:

Apply for Visa at U.S. Embassy/Consulate

The worker must apply for the R-1 visa at a U.S. embassy or consulate in their home country. This involves completing Form DS-160, Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application, and scheduling a visa interview.

Attend Visa Interview

During the interview, provide supporting documents such as the USCIS approval notice, proof of membership, and employment offer. Be prepared to discuss your role and duties in the religious organization.

For Applicants Inside the U.S:

  • Change of Status

If the worker is already in the U.S. under a different visa status, they can apply for a change of status to R-1 by filing Form I-539, Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status.

Step 4: Arrival and Employment in the U.S.

Once the R-1 visa is approved, the worker can travel to the U.S. and begin their duties with the sponsoring religious organization.

Required Documentation

The documentation required for an R-1 visa application is comprehensive and must be meticulously compiled.

For Form I-129 Filing:

  • Proof of Non-Profit Status: IRS determination letter or comparable documents.
  • Evidence of Membership: Documentation showing the worker’s membership in the religious denomination for the preceding two years.
  • Detailed Job Description: Information about the religious nature of the job and the worker’s qualifications.
  • Financial Support Evidence: Proof that the organization can support the worker financially.

For Consular Processing:

Form DS-160 Confirmation: Proof of completing the DS-160 form online.

Visa Appointment Confirmation: Evidence of the scheduled visa interview.

Passport: A valid passport for at least six months beyond the intended stay.

Photographs: Passport-size photos meeting U.S. visa requirements.

USCIS Approval Notice: The original or a copy of the I-797 approval notice from USCIS.

Supporting Documents: Proof of religious membership, job offer, and any other relevant documentation.

Common Challenges and How to Overcome Them

Applying for an R-1 visa can be complex, and applicants may encounter several challenges:

  • Proving Non-Profit Status

Ensure all financial documents and IRS determinations are up to date and accurately reflect the organization’s non-profit status.

  • Establishing Religious Nature of Job

Clearly define how the position meets the criteria for religious work. Include detailed job descriptions and supporting statements from the organization.

  • Responding to Requests for Evidence (RFEs)

Be prepared to respond promptly to any RFEs from USCIS by providing additional documentation or clarification as requested.

Benefits of the R-1 Visa

The R-1 visa offers several advantages for both religious workers and their sponsoring organizations:

  • Opportunity for Service

 It allows religious workers to engage in their vocation and support religious communities in the U.S.

  • Path to Permanent Residency

 R-1 visa holders may apply for permanent residency (green card) through the EB-4 category for special immigrants if they meet the eligibility criteria.

  • Family Accompaniment

Family members can join the primary visa holder in the U.S., enhancing personal and family stability.

  • Extended Stay

The possibility of extending the visa up to 5 years provides stability for long-term religious commitments.


The R-1 visa is a valuable tool for religious workers seeking to contribute to their faith communities in the United States. By following the detailed steps outlined in this guide, applicants can navigate the application process effectively, ensuring they meet all requirements and are well-prepared for a successful outcome.

You can also take the help of our AI-enabled immigration software to craft accurate petitions. Through Imagility you can build R-1 petitions quickly through guided petition building and also stay on top of any changes to policies and procedures. To know more, contact us at

Subscribe for latest blog updates

By submitting this you will be receiving our latest updates on the blogs.

Get Started With Imagility

Save upto 6 hours a day!