- The applicant must be a member of a religious denomination having a bona fide nonprofit religious organization in the U.S.
- The religious denomination and its affiliate, if applicable, are exempt from taxation, or the religious denomination qualifies for tax-exempt status and
- The applicant has been a member of the denomination for two years immediately preceding application for religious worker status.
The applicant is planning to work as a minister of that denomination, or in a religious occupation or vocation for a bona fide, non-profit religious organization (or a tax-exempt affiliate of such an organization).
- There is no requirement that individuals applying for “R” visas have a residence abroad that they have no intention of abandoning. However, they must intend to depart the United States at the end of their lawful status, absent specific indications or evidence to the contrary.
- The applicant has resided and been physically present outside the United States for the immediate prior year if he or she has previously spent five years in this classification.
In order to be considered as a nonimmigrant under the above classification, the applicant’s prospective employer must file a Form I-129, Petition for Nonimmigrant Alien Worker, with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). For more detailed information regarding the filing of Form I-129, as well as requirements, please refer to the USCIS Temporary Workers and Required Documentation-Temporary Workers webpages.
Important Note: It is very important for prospective employers to file the petition as soon as possible (but not more than 6 months before the proposed employment will begin) to provide adequate time for petition and subsequent visa processing.
The petition, Form I-129, must be approved by DHS/USCIS before the prospective religious worker can apply for a visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate abroad. When the petition is approved, the employer or agent is sent a Notice of Action, Form I-797, which serves as the petition approval notification. Petition approval is verified through the Department of State’s Petition Information Management Service (PIMS) at the visa applicant’s interview. Visa applicants must still bring the approved I-129 petition receipt number to the interview, so that petition approval can be verified. It should be noted that the approval of a petition shall not guarantee visa issuance to an applicant found to be ineligible under provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act.
Religious workers should generally apply at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate with jurisdiction over their place of permanent residence. Although visa applicants may apply at any U.S. consular office abroad, it may be more difficult to qualify for the visa outside the country of permanent residence. As part of the visa application process, an interview at the embassy consular section is required for visa applicants between the ages of 14 through 79, with few exceptions. Persons age 13 and younger, and age 80 and older, generally do not require an interview, unless requested by the embassy or consulate. The waiting time for an interview appointment for applicants can vary, so early visa application is strongly encouraged
To schedule the interview appointment, you will need the receipt number that is printed on the approved Form I-129 petition.
NOTE: During your interview, the consular officer will use the receipt number to verify the Form I-129 petition approval. Therefore, Form I-797 is not used to verify petition approval for your visa interview. Consular officers may request whatever documentation is required, and the applicant must be prepared to present to the consular officer any or all of the following documentation to verify that the applicant and the religious organization qualify for the R status, including:
- Proof of tax-exempt status or eligibility for tax-exempt status and
- A letter from an authorized official of the specific unit of the employing organization certifying:
That if the applicant’s religious membership was maintained, in whole or in part, outside the United States, the foreign and United States religious organisation belong to the same religious denomination;
That, immediately prior to the application for the R visa, the alien has been a member of the religious denomination for the required two- year period;
- If the applicant is a minister, he or she is authorized to conduct religious worship for that denomination. The duties should be described in detail; or
- If the applicant is a religious professional, he or she has at least a baccalaureate degree or its equivalent, and that such a degree is required for entry into the religious profession; or
- If the applicant is to work in a nonprofessional vocation or occupation, he or she is qualified if the type of work to be done relates to a traditional religious function;
- The arrangements for remuneration, including the amount and source of salary, other types of compensation such as food and housing, and any other benefits to which a monetary value may be affixed, and a statement whether such remuneration shall be in exchange for services rendered;
- The name and location of the specific organizational unit of the religious denomination or affiliate for which the applicant will be providing services;
- If the alien is to work for an organization that is affiliated with a religious denomination, a description of the nature of the relationship between the two organizations;
- Evidence of the religious organization’s assets and methods of operation; and
- The organization’s papers of incorporation under applicable state law.
How do I Extend My Stay?
Religious workers seeking to stay beyond the time indicated on their Form I-94, Arrival-Departure Record, must have approval from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), U. S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), to extend their stay. The decision to grant or deny a request for extension of stay is made solely by USCIS.
A nonimmigrant religious worker’s spouse and unmarried children under 21 years of age may be granted derivative status. They may study, but may not accept employment in the United States.