Foreign religious workers can come to the United States using the R-1 visa. The foreign religious worker could be a rabbi, priest, imam, monk or other religious worker coming to work for a non-profit religious organization. The R-1 visa holder can apply for a green card after gaining two years of experience working in the United States.
Are You Eligible For R-1 Visa?
You may be eligible for an R-1 non-immigrant visa if:
- You are employed by a nonprofit religious organization in the United States or by a nonprofit religious organization that is affiliated to a religious organization in the United States
- You have been a member of a religious denomination affiliated to a bona fide nonprofit religious organization in the United States for at least two years immediately before filing an application
- You will be working part-time or for at least 20 hours a week when you come to the United States
- You are coming only to work as a minister or perform a religious occupation in the United States
- All your job duties will be related mainly to the religious organization’s creed and must be recognized within that religious denomination as a religious occupation
- You are entering the United States to work for the employer that sponsored your R-1 visa
How The Employer Can Sponsor The Foreign Worker
The U.S employer can only file Form I-360 with the USCIS if the foreign worker they intend to hire has acquired 2 years of experience as a religious worker. They need to include the following information:
- Evidence that they are a non-profit religious organization
- Proof that they have the ability to pay the wages they are offering
- They need provide proof that the employee has been a member of that religious denomination for at least 2 years
- They need to provide evidence that the employee has a theological education and is ordained if they employee is being employed as a minister
- Proof that the religious organization has tax-exempt status
The Meaning Of Religious Occupation
A religious occupation involves activities that have a religious significance. These activities must relate to a traditional religious function that has characteristics of the religion. A religious worker can be a nun, monk, missionary, religious instructor, religious hospital worker, catechist, cantor, broadcaster and translator. Janitors, clerks, accountants and other employees that do not engage in actual religious work cannot get an R-1 visa.
How Long Can You Stay?
With an R-1 visa you can only stay for 30 months after which you can request for an extension. You may actually get an extension of an additional period of 30 months. However, after an extension of 30 months (5 years) you will have to leave the United States. But you may be able to stay longer if you did not continually stay in the United States when your R-1 visa was still valid.
Talk to an immigration lawyer if you want to know whether you qualify for an extension or not.