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Immigration Law Blog

Saturday, March 15, 2014

The R Visa: A Non-Immigrant Visa for Religious Workers

The R visa allows religious workers to enter the United States for up to five years to work in a religious occupation, for example as a minister, monk or nun.  The R visa is a non-immigrant visa, also known as a temporary visa.  An R visa does not mean that the visa holder may remain in the United States as a resident alien.  Nor does it mean that the R visa holder may engage in work other than the religious work authorized by the visa.

Qualifying as a Religious Worker

The definition of a qualified religious worker for the purposes of the R visa is very specific.  The R visa applicant must be a member of a religion that has status as a bona fide religious organization in the United States.  The religious organization must either be tax-exempt or qualify for tax-exempt status.  The R visa applicant must have been a member of the religious denomination for at least two years preceding the R visa application.  The applicant must be planning to work as a minister or other occupation for the religious denomination for the duration of his or her stay in the United States under the R visa.  If the applicant has previously spent five years in the United States with an R visa, then the applicant must have resided and been physically present outside the United States for one year or more during the period immediately preceding the current R visa application.

The R Visa Application Process and Required Documents

The religious worker’s prospective employer must file a Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker (I-129) with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services before the religious worker may apply for an R visa.  If the I-129 petition is approved, then the religious worker applies for the R visa at a U.S. consulate or embassy.  The U.S. State Department recommends that the employer file the petition as early as possible, though the petition may not be filed more than six months in advance of the religious worker’s planned employment start date.

In addition to the application and valid passport, required documents for the R visa may include:

  • Proof of the U.S. religious organization’s tax exempt status or qualification for tax-exempt status
  • A letter from the religious organization that certifies that:
    • The applicant has been a member of the religious organization for at least two years
    • The applicant, if a minister, is authorized to conduct religious worship services
    • The applicant, if not a minister, is qualified for the type of work the applicant will be performing
    • Details about compensation, including room and board and monetary compensation

Extending Your Stay in the United States
It is a violation of U.S. immigration law to stay in the United States beyond the expiration date of the R visa.  Such a violation could result in disqualification for future visas.  It may be possible to apply for and receive a different type of nonimmigrant or immigrant visa while you are working in the United States under an R visa.  It is important to seek out qualified advice from an immigration professional if you wish to change your status from an R visa holder to a different type of immigrant or nonimmigrant visa./p>


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