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Religious Workers Visa

Ministers and other religious workers who wish to come to the United States with their families to pursue their profession may qualify for an R visa. This is a specialty temporary visa for religious workers. To get approval for an R visa to come to California, you need counsel from an experienced immigration attorney.

If you or a family member are a minister or religious worker, you may be eligible to come to the United States on a special religious worker’s visa. However, these visas aren’t necessarily easy to obtain, which is why it’s essential to work with an experienced immigration attorney to improve your chances of approval.

To learn more about religious visas, including the R-1 visa, R-2 visa, and EB-4 visa, contact  Yemi Getachew Immigration Law Office today. You can reach us by phone at 408-292-7995 or fill out our easy online contact form to set up a consultation.

What Is an R Visa?

An R-1 visa is a short-term work visa for those offered jobs as religious workers in the United States. There are different subcategories of R visa (see below). R visas were created as part of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). One benefit of applying for an R visa is that, unlike most other visa types, there are no limits placed on the number of people who can receive them annually.

Other advantages of the R visa include:

  • The recipient can work legally in the US for their R sponsor. (A new visa is required if the recipient changes jobs.)
  • R visas are usually decided and given fairly quickly.
  • Travel in and out of the US is permitted with an R visa.
  • Recipients of an R-1 visa (see below) can bring a spouse and unmarried children under the age of 21 with them to the US under an R-2 visa (see below), as long as the spouse and children do not work.

Qualifying For An R-1 Religious Visa

An R-1 visa is given to religious workers who have been — for at least two years — a member of a legitimate religious denomination as defined by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS). They must have a job offer in the United States working in that same religion.

Be aware that USCIS (US Citizenship and Immigration Services) may call on the visa recipient at work or conduct a site visit to corroborate the veracity of their application. Applicants for R-1 visas may also be required to provide certificates of ordination, licenses, or other proof of qualifications to perform religious work.

Both members of the clergy and religious lay workers (those in a “religious vocation” or “religious occupation”) are eligible to receive R-1 visas. An initial stay of up to 30 months may be granted, with a maximum of five years on the same visa, extended in 30-month increments.

Who are some typical R-1 visa recipients?

  • Rabbis
  • Ministers
  • Priests
  • Buddhist monks
  • Officers of the Salvation Army
  • Ordained deacons
  • Practitioners and nurses of the Christian Science Church
  • Religious instructors and counselors
  • Liturgical workers
  • Cantors
  • Catechists
  • Religious hospital and healthcare facility workers
  • Religious translators
  • Missionaries
  • Religious broadcasters

Note that volunteers may not apply for the R-1 visa, only paid workers. Also, people in non-religious functions may not apply, such as church maintenance staff, clerical staff, or singers (although choir directors may qualify in some instances).

Unlike with green card (permanent resident) qualification, R-1 visa applicants do not have to have been working in their denomination for the last two years; they only have to have been a member of the religious organization. In many other ways, however, criteria for R-1 visa status and green card status overlap (see information about the EB-4 immigrant visa below).

What Is the Purpose of an R-2 Visa?

The R-2 visa was created for family members accompanying R-1 visa holders to the United States. Unmarried children under the age of 21 and spouses of R-1 visa recipients may apply for an R-2 visa. This permits them to enter and stay in the United States as long as the R-1 visa holder’s visa is current. However, R-2 visa holders are not allowed to work in the U.S., even in a religious capacity.

What Is an EB-4 Visa and Do You Qualify?

An EB-4 visa is a “special immigrant” green card that includes a variety of job types. Some religious workers may also qualify for this immigrant visa and may wish to apply, rather than applying for an R-1 visa as described above. Ministers and religious workers fit in the EB-4 subcategories.

There are 10,000 EB-4 visas available annually, with 5,000 allotted to non-clergy religious workers (until at least September 30, 2021, when Congress will review the non-clergy provision). Most years, the 10,000 limit is not reached, meaning this visa is easier to obtain than many other types, with a significantly shorter wait time.

Once an employer has filed form I-360 petitioning for a religious worker’s green card, the applicant can pursue their visa using the conventional methods of adjustment of status or consular processing. People in the same categories listed above for an R-1 visa may be eligible for an EB-4 visa, so long as they are in permanent salaried positions and only perform religious duties.

Applicants must have already worked for at least two years continuously in their religion. Once in the U.S., they must be hired to work at least 35 hours per week. Just like with R-1 visas, EB-4 visa recipients must work for an organization that meets the IRS standards for a bona fide religious group.

The spouse or children of an EB-4 visa applicant may also apply for their own green cards as derivatives of the primary EB-4 visa holder.

Assistance For Families Of Religious Workers

Spouses and children of religious workers may join them on an R-2 visa. Our lawyers will work diligently to keep your family together while you are acting as a religious minister in this country. We will make sure your applications are complete and filed in a timely manner.

Instead of struggling with the complicated U.S. immigration system, invest in a skilled lawyer for help. We will help you avoid costly surprises and delays.

How Can an Immigration Attorney In San Jose Help with Your Religious Workers Visa?

Although a religious worker’s visa may be relatively easier to obtain than many other U.S. visas, religious visa requirements are still quite stringent. Therefore, it’s smart to work with an experienced immigration attorney when applying, as we can help with:

  • Making sure you qualify as a religious worker
  • Ensuring your petition from an employer has been filed
  • Filling out the visa application properly and paying all fees
  • Assisting with family members’ visas
  • Preparing you for the visa interview
  • Advising you about other issues, such as medical exams, vaccinations, misrepresentation, timelines, and entering the US at the border

Don’t let mistakes with your visa keep you from your job as a religious worker in the United States. Call Yemi Getachew Immigration Law Office  today at 408-292-7995 or reach out online using our contact form to set up a consultation.