R Visas

Living and working in the United States as a religious worker

If you want to live and work in the United States as an employee or volunteer for an established religious organization, you may qualify for an R visa. R visas do not automatically open the door to a green card or to U.S. citizenship, but your employer may petition for a green card for you as a permanent immigrant religious worker.

R visa requirements

To qualify for a religious worker visa, you must be coming to the United States temporarily to work at least part-time (an average of 20 hours per week) for an established non-profit religious organization or to work as a minister for an established religious domination. You will have to show that your membership in your denomination stretches back at least two years before you apply. If you will work as a minister, you will need to show a copy of your ordination certificate or equivalent document, as well as some record of your theological education.

Your religious employer must provide evidence indicating that it has existed in the United States for at least two years prior to filing the petition, and submit evidence of how it intends to compensate you for your work. This evidence can include:

  • A copy of its 501(c)(3) classification letter from the IRS
  • A group 501(c)(3) classification letter
  • Other documentation establishing the religious nature and purpose of the organization
  • Verifiable evidence of how you will be compensated, including records of past compensation for people performing similar work
  • Budgets showing money set aside for compensation
  • If compensation will be in-kind, evidence that you will be provided room and board

This is only a partial overview of R visa requirements. A savvy professional immigration attorney can help you and your religious denomination get an R visa this first time you apply, avoiding unnecessary delays.

How to apply for an R visa

Your prospective employer must file a form I-129 Petition for a Non-immigrant Worker with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). After USCIS approves the I-129 petition, you may apply for an R visa at any U.S. consulate or embassy abroad. If your country of citizenship is visa-exempt (e.g. Canada), you should present a record of the USCIS decision when you seek admission at the border.

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
Kahbo Dye-Chiew

Contact a skilled immigration attorney in Honolulu and find out which visa category applies to you

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