Nonimmigrant R-1 Visas for Religious Workers

The Law Offices of KahBo Dye-Chiew helps religious organizations who wish to employ foreign Religious Workers work for them either temporarily in the United States through the R-1 Visas or on a more permanent basis as a religious worker. Religious worker visas came under Department of Homeland Security (DHS) scrutiny after the events of September 11, which led to substantially revised visa regulations. The United States issued a final ruling that now requires employers to formally petition for R-1 Visas or immigrant visas on behalf of religious workers before they can enter the United States in that category. Investigation, evaluation, verification, and compliance reviews of religious organizations are also tools the United States Citizenship Immigration Services (USCIS) use to eliminate fraud and more tightly monitor the religious worker visa.

Qualifying factors for religious organizations

The USCIS qualifies religious organizations by conducting onsite religious organization inspections for purposes of the following:

  • Ensuring that the Petitioner is truly a religious organization within a recognized religious denomination
  • Deterring and detecting fraudulent petitions
  • Ensuring compliance with religious worker classification terms

Other qualification efforts include the following:

  • Requiring submission of a current, valid Internal Revenue Service (IRS) determination letter of tax-exempt status
  • Requiring evidence of the religious nature and purpose of the organization, if the IRS has not classified it as a religious organization, and certification of affiliation with a tax-exempt religious denomination
  • Issuing Notice of Intent to Deny petitions based on derogatory evidence which might not be known to the petitioner

Types of religious workers

  • Minister  an ordained minister fully authorized to conduct religious worship and perform duties usually performed by authorized clergy of that denomination.
  • Religious Vocation  Nuns, Monks, Religious Brothers or Sisters who have taken a formal lifetime commitment through vows, investitures or other ceremonies to a religious way of life.
  • Religious Occupation  Engaged in duties that primarily relate to a traditional religious function which is recognized as a religious occupation within the denomination and which primarily relates to and clearly involves inculcating or carrying out the religious creed and beliefs of the denomination.

Permanent residence status as a religious worker

After two years of paid employment as a religious minister, the R-1 worker may be eligible for permanent residence status as a religious minister.

Qualifying factors for religious workers

The USCIS Final Rule for Religious Worker Visa Classifications requires the following for religious workers:
  • The religious organization must offer the religious worker a position in one of the three religious worker categories above.
  • The U.S. religious organization planning to employ the religious worker must submit a Form I-129 Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker or a Form I-360 Petition for a Special Immigrant.
  • Petitioning employers must submit the Attestation (the I-129 and I-360 forms include Attestation documents), which verifies the validity and denomination of the religious organization and the ability to pay the religious worker, qualifications of the religious worker, compensation to be paid religious worker (whether salaried or non-salaried) and the nature of the position offered.
  • The primary difference between the qualification requirements for a nonimmigrant R-1 religious worker and a religious worker applying for an immigrant visa is that the immigrant religious worker, in addition to showing that he/she has been a member of the religious denomination for at least 2 years, must have also been employed in a religious worker position for at least 2 years immediately prior to filing the immigrant visa petition (Form I-360).

Nonimmigrant R-1 Religious workers must have Form I-129 approval before a U.S. Consulate abroad or port-of-entry can approve an R-1 Visa. The initial stay period is 30 months and maximum stay cannot exceed five years. If a religious organization wishes to employ a religious worker on a more permanent basis, the religious organization must file a Form I-360 petition. After the I-360 is approved, the religious worker can file the Application to Register for Permanent Residence (Form I-485) to apply to be a lawful permanent resident of the United States.
Kahbo Dye-Chiew

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