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A foreign national, who has been a member of a bona fide nonprofit religious organization for at least two (2) years immediately prior to applying for admission, may be admitted to carry on the activities of a religious worker in the United States for a period not to exceed five (5) years.

The religious worker must be coming to the United States:

  • Solely to carry on the vocation of a minister of the religious denomination with which the petitioning organization is affiliated;

  • To work in professional capacity for, and at the request of, the petitioning religious organization; or

  • To work in a religious vocation or occupation for, and at the request of, the organization or other bona fide organization affiliated with the religious denomination.

Two visa categories are available as follows:

Visa available to…

R-1

Religious workers
Religious workers of foreign nationality may also be eligible for EB-4 Special Immigrant status which requires labor certification. The advantage of the R1 visa is that it takes roughly 18 months less processing time.

R-2

Dependents of R-1 nonimmigrants, including spouses and unmarried children under 21 years of age. Only unmarried children are eligible for grant of R2 status.
R-2 derivative visas do not permit employment in the United States, although anyone in that status may attend school or engage in other studies for the duration of his/her stay in the United States.

Definitions for determining R-1 visa eligibility:

A “bona fide nonprofit religious organization” is a U.S.-based organization which is or would be tax exempt in the determination of the Internal Revenue Service.

A minister is an individual duly authorized by a recognized religious denomination to conduct religious worship and to perform other duties usually performed by authorized members of the clergy of that religion.

Professional capacity means an activity in a religious vocation or occupation for which a minimum of a U.S. baccalaureate degree (or its equivalent in the applicant’s country of origin) is required.

Religious vocation means a calling to religious life evidenced by the demonstration of commitment practiced in the religious denomination, such as the taking of vows. Examples of persons with a religious vocation include, but are not limited to, nuns, monks, and religious brothers and sisters.

Religious occupation means an activity which relates to a traditional religious function, including, but not limited to, the activities of liturgical workers, religious instructors, religious counselors, cantors, catechists, workers in religious hospitals or religious health care facilities, missionaries, religious translators, or religious broadcasters. It does not, however, include janitors, maintenance workers, clerks, fund raisers, or persons involved solely in the solicitation of donations.
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