R-1 Visa

Religious Worker Visa
Requirements, Benefits, Limitations and Forms

The R-1 visa is a temporary non-immigrant visa given out to foreign nationals wanting to enter the United States in order to work in a religious capacity. The R-1 religious worker visa allows religious workers, employed by a recognized religious employer, to temporarily enter the U.S. in order to perform and engage in religious duties.

Benefits of the R-1 Visa

  • Applicants do not have to maintain a residence in their native country while in the U.S.
  • R-1 visa holders are free to exit and re-enter the U.S. without restrictions.
  • Visa holders in this category are allowed to receive wages for their services performed in the U.S.
  • R-1 visa holders are permitted to bring their spouse and children (under the age of 21 and unmarried) with them. They must apply for the R-2 visa.
  • The initial R-1 visa is granted for 2 and a half year or 30 months.
  • Prior to the expiration of the visa, the R-1 visa holders may apply for an extension of an additional 2 and a half years not to exceed a total of 5 years.
  • R-1 visa holders may change religious employers while in the U.S. A new petition for a non-immigrant worker visa must be filed by the new employer with USCIS.


  • Religious workers cannot stay longer than a total of 5 years on the R-1 visa.
  • Applicants that have worked previously in the U.S. on the R-1 visa for the maximum of 5 years must spend 1 year back in their native country before reapplying.
  • The spouse and dependents of the R-1 visa holder may not work. However, they are allowed to study.


  • Religious workers must either be a minister of their religion or work in a religious vocation.
  • The R-1 visa applicant must represent a legitimate non-profit religious organization that is tax exempt.
  • The religious worker must have been a member of their denomination for at least two years prior to their R-1 application.
  • Applicants must intend to return to their native country once their visa expires.

Documentation Required

  • Form I-129, Petition for a Non-immigrant Worker
  • Form DS-156, Non-immigrant Visa Application
  • Applicant must provide proof of employment in a religious capacity with a qualified (non-profit and tax exempt) religious organization.
  • Proof of the religious organization’s tax exempt status
  • Paperwork that shows the applicant has been a member of the religious organization for over 2 years
  • Financial support documentation

Given the high stakes of the outcome of your R-1 visa application and the complicated paperwork involved, it is important to understand your rights and your obligations under the law. If you are ready to begin the application process or have questions, then contact us today to schedule a call or a meeting. We are more than happy to call you wherever you are in the world at no cost to you.

Eliana Phelps

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