R Visa for Religious Workers

The Religious Worker (R-1) Temporary Visa

The R-1 visa is a temporary work visa for foreign nationals coming to the United States to work for a non-profit religious organization (or an affiliated organization with the religious denomination in the United States) as a minister or in a religious vocation or occupation. The foreign national must be coming to work at least part-time (average of at least 20 hours per week). The following describes the current eligibility criteria and provides a list of documentation necessary to obtain an approved R-1 visa petition.

Note: Due to the ongoing efforts of USCIS to uncover fraud in the R-1 visa classification, it is of the utmost importance to contact an experienced immigration attorney to assist in preparing an R-1 visa petition.

R-1 Qualifying Criteria

To be eligible for an R-1 visa, a foreign national must have been a member of a religious denomination having a bona fide non-profit religious organization in the United States for at least two (2) years immediately preceding the filing of the petition. This can be established by submitting a resume and any employment verification letters from employers in past years stating where and the dates that the religious worker was employed.

Minister or Religious Vocation or Occupation

In addition, a copy of the religious worker’s certificate of ordination is required to show that he/she has been a member of the organization for the past two years and is a qualifying minister or religious worker. This can also be shown through the theological education diplomas and transcripts showing that the worker was educated at an accredited theological institution if the hiring religious organization requires prescribed theological education. Include transcripts and curriculum and documentation that establishes that the theological institution is accredited by the hiring religious organization.

Note: If no education required, provide (1) the religious organization’s requirements for ordination (2) duties performed by the ordained (3) levels of ordination, if any, and (4) the foreign national’s completion of the denomination’s requirements for ordination.

Bona-Fide Non-Profit Religious Organization

The employer must be a bonafide non-profit religious organization (or an affiliated organization with the religious denomination) in the United States. To show that the non-profit 501(c)(3) status, a letter from the IRS is necessarily establishing that the petitioning organization is a tax-exempt organization. The employer must show that it can employ the beneficiary. Evidence such as past compensation for similar positions, budgets showing money set-asides for salaries, room and board evidence, etc. will establish this criterion. If there are W-2s they must be submitted.

Further, to prove that the employer is a qualifying religious organization, documentation is required that states the purpose and mission of the organization, such as a copy of the organizing instrument that specifies the purposes of the organization. Additionally, organizational literature such as brochures, calendars, flyers, other literature stating the purpose and nature of the activities of the organization are helpful.

Procedure – Filing in the U.S. Is Required

Every R-1 Visa Petition must begin by the prospective or existing U.S. employer filing a Form I-129, Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker. This is a prerequisite to obtaining the visa from a consulate abroad and the notice of approval (Form I-797) must be presented to the consulate when applying for the visa.

Be Careful of ICE Site Visits: Negative Site Visit Overcome on Appeal

Due to USCIS’s determination that the R-1 visa classification has been utilized fraudulently in the past, the Service is very skeptical of any R-1 visa petition. Hence, ICE may be called upon to visit a church, synagogue, temple, etc., in the U.S. prior to granting the I-129. In a recent case, a religious organization overturned a denial that was based on an ICE officer’s unsatisfactory results from their compliance review report. In that case, the inspecting officer had declared that the beneficiary's duties appear to be more administrative than religious but offered no elaboration or explanation. The BIA held that “such a finding does not invariably result in a permanent and irrebuttable presumption of ineligibility.” Hence, a negative determination on a site visit is not per se reason to deny the case and if your religious organization has been the subject of a visit by an immigration officer, contact an experienced immigration lawyer to discuss your options.

How to Contact The Law Firm of Shihab & Associates

If you have questions about a Religious Worker (R-1) Visa, immigrant visa or green card matter, and/or you need help in an immigration process, please contact our attorneys or call The Law Firm of Shihab & Associate at our Columbus Ohio, Cleveland Ohio, Southfield Michigan and Washington, D.C.

Whether you are an employer, an employee or a family member, The Law Firm of Shihab & Associates has competent, responsive, and innovative lawyers who can make your immigration experience pleasant and seamless.

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