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R1 VISA FOR NONIMMIGRANT RELIGIOUS WORKERS

The R-1 Nonimmigrant Religious Workers classification allows a foreign national to enter the United States to work in a religious capacity for up to five years. This visa was designed for religious workers whose lives are dedicated to religious practices and functions, as distinguished from secular members of the religion.

A perfect example of a R-1 applicant is a Christian priest from another country who looks to become the head pastor at a church in the United States. Other acceptable religious worker positions include, but are not limited to, music/choir directors, cantors, religious instructors/counselors, religious broadcasters, religious translators, and missionaries.

R-1 Applicants outside the U.S. can apply directly at the U.S. Consulate for an R-1 Visa (no prior petition approval required). For those already in the U.S., the religious organization must file an I-129/R-1 Petition with USCIS. While the filing process is different for each of these scenarios, the criteria and requirements are the same.

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LEGAL FEE

Our fee structure is unique to us as we strive to tailor our services for each client individually. We adapt price standards that are capable of fluctuating for each client depending on their unique needs. Clients may retain us for one or all of the above steps/services.

Our typical fee for a standard R-1 is $5,000, not including, the government filing fees and third-party extensions. Upon request, we can provide a proposal outlining your custom immigration plan including a breakdown of our legal services and your personalized legal fee payment plan.

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CASE PROCESSING OVERVIEW

Step 1: Strategy Session for R-1 Visa

This is the most crucial step for your entire R-1 Visa. We will review all of the supporting documents to create a strategy, a customized checklist, and a timeline to serve as the guiding foundation for the entire case preparation.

Step 2: Prepare and Submit R-1 to USCIS

Our attorneys will craft your R-1 arguments and complete all forms, organize supporting documents, and assemble the crafted arguments into the proper application formats. After a thorough review, we will then submit the application to USCIS.

Step 3: Respond to Request for Evidence (RFE) or Notice of Intent to Deny (NOID)

In the event, USCIS issues a Request for Evidence (RFE) or Notice of Intent to Deny (NOID), our attorneys will craft a response in a timely manner to fight for the approval of your R-1 application.

Step 3.5 Prepare Client and Petitioner for USCIS Site Visit

A site visit is the most crucial step for any first-time R-1 application, where USCIS verify the veracity of the application. Most USCIS site visits occur without any notice before the case is approved. Any misunderstanding during the site visit may lead to the case being delayed or denied. We help prepare the client and the petitioner prepare for the random site visit by simulating and ensuring the client as well as the petitioner is well-versed in the application material

    Step 4: Prepare Client for Interview in the US or at the Consulate

    For clients requiring a visa interview, we will help guide you and your family in preparation for your visa interview. This includes guidance with document collection and most importantly, simulating the interview to ensure you are well-versed in the application material.  We will provide you with a comprehensive strategy for answering inquiries posed, practice questions, thorough feedback, and other tools to help you succeed during your interview.

    Step 5: Responding to Consulate Requests / Administrative Processing / Status Checks / Fraud Alerts

    After the interview, your visa will either be issued (“approved”) or continued for “Administrative Processing”. Reasons for Administrative Processing include  supervisory reviews, additional document requests and potential fraud alerts. Our U.S. or abroad-based attorneys will liaise with the Consular officer on your behalf and work closely with you and/or your U.S. Petitioner to provide any additional evidence and to alleviate any doubts or concerns to ultimately secure your visa issuance. 

    Step 6: Arrival is Only The Beginning

    Our services do not end when you receive your R-1 Approval — this is only the beginning.  To help accommodate this reality, our team will continue to provide guidance and support to you and your dependent family members post-approval with the following:

        • Consular processing (“visa stamping”)
        • CBP – Airport Arrival
        • Basic SSA and DMV issues/questions
        • General Payroll and taxation issues
        • O-1 Itinerary changes
        • Referrals to accounting professionals and tax specialists
        • and more!
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    ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

    Checklist of Required Evidence

    Did you provide the following?

    • Evidence relating to the petitioning organization:
      • If you have your own individual IRC 501(c)(3) letter, provide a valid determination letter from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) establishing that the organization is a tax-exempt organization
      • If you are recognized as tax-exempt under a group tax-exemption, provide a valid determination letter from the IRS establishing that the group is tax-exempt; or
      • If you are affiliated with a religious denomination that has been granted tax-exempt status under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code (IRC) of 1986 (or any subsequent amendments, equivalent sections, or prior enactments of the IRC) as something other than a religious organization, provide:
        • A valid determination letter from the IRS establishing that the organization is a tax-exempt organization;
        • Documentation establishing the religious nature and purpose of the organization
        • Organizational literature, such as books, articles, brochures, calendars, and flyers, describing the religious purpose and nature of the activities of the organization; and
        • Religious Denomination Certification, which is part of the R-1 Classification Supplement to Form I-129, completed, signed, and dated by the religious organization with which the petitioning organization is claiming affiliation
    • Employer attestation, included as part of the R-1 Classification Supplement to Form I-129, completed signed, and dated by an authorized official of the petitioner
    • Verifiable documentation of how you intend to compensate the beneficiary, including salaried or non-salaried compensation. 
      • IRS documentation, such as IRS Form W-2 or certified tax returns (if available).  If unavailable, you must submit an explanation for the absence of IRS documentation, along with comparable, verifiable documentation.
    • If the beneficiary will be self-supporting, you must submit documentation establishing:
      • That the beneficiary’s position is part of an established program for temporary, uncompensated missionary work, which is part of a broader international program of missionary work sponsored by the denomination; 
      • That the denomination maintains missionary programs both in the United states and abroad; 
      • The religious worker’s acceptance into the missionary program; 
      • The religious duties and responsibilities associated with the traditionally uncompensated missionary work; and
      • Verifiable evidence documenting the sources of self-support.
    • If the religious worker will be working as a minister, you must provide:
      • A copy of their certificate of ordination or similar documents; and
      • Documents showing acceptance of their qualification as a minister in the religious denomination and evidence the beneficiary completed any course of prescribed theological education at an accredited theological institution normally required or recognized by that religious denomination
      • If the denomination does not require a prescribed theological education, provide denomination’s requirements for ordination to minister, duties allowed to be performed by virtue of ordination, denomination levels of ordination if any, and beneficiary’s completion of the denomination’s requirements for ordination.  
    • Evidence that the beneficiary has been a member in the religious denomination for at least two years immediately preceding the filing of the petition
    • Evidence to establish the beneficiary is qualified to perform the duties of the offered position 
    • Initial evidence of the previous R-1 employment if you are requesting an extension of stay.
      • If the beneficiary received salaried compensation, you must submit IRS documentation showing they received a salary for the preceding two years.
      • If the beneficiary received non-salaried compensation, you must submit IRS documentation of the non-salaried compensation, if available.  If IRS documentation is not available, then you must submit verifiable evidence of all financial support.
      • If the beneficiary received no salary, but supported themselves and any dependents, you must show how they maintained support by submitting verifiable documents with your petition.

    Filing Fee

    The updated filing fee for R-1 can be found here.

    When you send a payment, you agree to pay for a government service. Filing and biometric service fees are final and non-refundable, regardless of any action we take on your application, petition, or request, or if you withdraw your request.

    Eligibility for R-1 Visa

    Requirements:

    1. The foreign religious worker must have been a member of a religious denomination having a bona fide non-profit religious organization in the United States for at least 2 years immediately before the filing of the petition (note: membership is sufficient, prior employment is not required);
    2. The foreign religious worker must belong to a religious denomination or affiliate which is exempt from taxation, or the religious denomination qualifies for tax-exempt status;
    3. The foreign religious worker must plan to enter the U.S. solely to work as a minister of a religious denomination or, at the request of the organization, to work in a religious vocation or occupation;
    4. The foreign religious worker must have an occupation or vocation for a religious denomination or for an organization affiliated with the denomination;
    5. The foreign religious worker must be coming to the U.S. to work in at least a part-time position (approximately 20 hours per week);
    6. The foreign religious worker must be compensated (either salaried or non-salaried compensation) and the petitioner must provide verifiable evidence of compensation.
    7. The foreign religious worker must have resided and been physically present outside the U.S. for the immediate prior year if he/she previously spent five years in the U.S. in the R-1 classification;
    8. The foreign religious worker must intend to leave the U.S. upon completion of the authorized stay.

    Limitations:

    1. The foreign religious worker may be granted the status for an initial period of admission for up to 30 months;
    2. The foreign religious worker may extend the R-1 status in increments of 30 months;
    3. The foreign religious worker may not exceed a total period of stay in the U.S. of 5 years. (A person can obtain R-1 status again after remaining outside the U.S. for one year before making another application.)

    Four R-Visa Categories

    1. Minister
      1. Foreign religious worker duly authorized by a recognized religious denomination to conduct religious worship and to perform other duties usually performed by authorized members of the clergy of that religion;
      2. Must have a reasonable connection between the activities performed and the religious calling of the minister;
      3. Category does not include a lay preacher not authorized to perform such duties;
    2. Professional Religious Worker
      1. Foreign religious worker performs activities in a religious vocation or occupation that requires a U.S. bachelor degree or its foreign equivalent;
      2. No combination of education and experience, or experience alone, will be allowed to substitute for a bachelor degree;
    3. Work In a Religious Occupation
      1. Foreign religious worker performs an activity that relates to a traditional religious function;
      2. Examples of persons in religious occupations include, but are not limited to, liturgical workers, religious instructors, religious counselors, cantors, catechists, workers in religious hospitals or religious health care facilities, missionaries, religious translators, and religious broadcasters;
      3. This group does not include janitors, maintenance workers, clerks, fund raisers, and persons involved solely in the solicitation of donations;
    4. Work In a Religious Vocation
      1. Foreign religious worker called to religious life as demonstrated by a commitment to a religious denomination, such as the taking of vows;
      2. Examples of persons with a religious vocation include, but are not limited to, nuns, monks, and religious brothers and sisters.

    Compensation

    There is no prevailing wage requirement like other employment-based visas; however, the foreign religious worker must be compensated either by salaried or non-salaried compensation and the R-1 Petitioner must provide verifiable evidence of such compensation. If there is no compensation, the Petitioner must prove that the non-compensated worker is participating in a traditionally non-compensated missionary program within the denomination which is part of a broader “international program of missionary work” sponsored by the denomination. And,  the Petitioner must provide evidence of how the foreign religious worker will be supported while participating in the program.

    Uncompensated Missionary Work

    There are additional requirements to qualify for R-1 status based upon temporary uncompensated missionary work. The Petitioner has the additional burden of showing it is a missionary program in which: (1) foreign workers, whether compensated or uncompensated, have previously participated in R-1 status; (2) missionary workers are traditionally uncompensated; (3) the organization provides formal training for missionaries; and (4) participation in such missionary work is an established element of religious development in that denomination. Evidence should describe the missionary program, the religious duties associated with the missionary work and demonstrate that the foreign religious worker has been accepted in to the program, describe his/her responsibilities and demonstrate that the foreign religious worker has adequate means of support.

      Relevant Law

      8 CFR §214.2(r).

      Religious Workers.  This paragraph governs classification of an alien as a nonimmigrant worker. (R-1)

      8 C.F.R. §204.5(m)(5)

      (5)Definitions. As used in paragraph (m) of this section, the term:

      Bona fide non-profit religious organization in the United States means a religious organization exempt from taxation as described in section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, subsequent amendment or equivalent sections of prior enactments of the Internal Revenue Code, and possessing a currently valid determination letter from the IRS confirming such exemption.

      Bona fide organization which is affiliated with the religious denomination means an organization which is closely associated with the religious denomination and which is exempt from taxation as described in section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, subsequent amendment or equivalent sections of prior enactments of the Internal Revenue Code and possessing a currently valid determination letter from the IRS confirming such exemption.

      Denominational membership means membership during at least the two-year period immediately preceding the filing date of the petition, in the same type of religious denomination as the United States religious organization where the alien will work.

      Section 101(a)(15)(R)

      (R) an alien, and the spouse and children of the alien if accompanying or following to join the alien, who-

      (i) for the 2 years immediately preceding the time of application for admission, has been a member of a religious denomination having a bona fide nonprofit, religious organization in the United States; and

      (ii) seeks to enter the United States for a period not to exceed 5 years to perform the work described in subclause (I), (II), or (III) of paragraph (27)(C)(ii)

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      SAMPLE & TEMPLATES

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      Attorney Brief:  [coming soon] We will provide an attorney brief sample for the R-1 petition.

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      Cover Letter: [coming soon] We will also provide a cover letter sample for the R-1 petition.

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      Sample Request for Evidence: [coming soon] Requests for evidence can be used to strengthen the case.

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      Forms: Here is a list of the forms that are needed by USCIS

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      Sample Checklist: [coming soon] We look at the client’s unique situation and create customized checklists to strengthen their cases.

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      USCIS Fee Calculator: This is to help calculate how much the filing fee will be.

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      USCIS Mailing Address: This address is where it is mailed to USCIS.

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      USCIS Processing Timetable: This will help you figure out how long it will take to process.

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      ASC Field Offices: Listed are the addresses of the field offices for the bio-metrics.

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      FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

      How long can I stay in the U.S. under R-1 Visa?

      USCIS may grant R-1 status for an initial period of admission for up to 30 months. Subsequent extensions may be granted for up to an additional 30 months. The religious worker’s total period of stay in the United States in R-1 classification cannot exceed five years (60 months). USCIS counts only time spent physically in the United States in valid R-1 status toward the maximum period of stay. See PM-602-0057, Procedures for Calculating the Maximum Period of Stay for R-1 Nonimmigrants (PDF, 70 KB) for details.

      Should the alien obtain an I-94 Admission and Departure Record from CBP with an initial period of admission beyond the regulatory maximum of 30 months, the error should be corrected by bringing it to the attention of the port of entry that issued the I-94 or the Deferred Inspection Office of CBP. Neither the petitioning prospective employer nor the alien will be penalized for the error. However, such an error may affect the alien’s future immigration benefits if he or she exceeds the statutory maximum of five years. Do not use Form I-102, Application for Replacement/Initial Nonimmigrant Arrival-Departure Document, to request that USCIS correct a CBP error on Form I-94. USCIS cannot correct the form I-94. Please visit www.cbp.gov for information on correcting Form I-94 issued by CBP.

      If an R-1 nonimmigrant’s I-94 lists an initial period of admission longer than 30 months, however, such nonimmigrants may request an extension of status prior to the end of that 30 month period of admission.

      Before applying for a new nonimmigrant R-1 visa (a new five-year maximum stay), the individual must have lived outside the United States for at least one year. These time limitations do not apply to religious workers who did not reside continuously in the United States and whose employment in the United States was seasonal, intermittent or for an aggregate of six months or less per year. The limitations also do not apply to religious workers who reside abroad and commute to the United States to work part time.

      Can I bring my family?

      An R-1 religious worker’s spouse and unmarried children under the age of 21 may be eligible for R-2 classification. An R-2 dependent is not authorized to accept employment based on this visa classification.

      What if I am terminated/change employer?

      The petitioner must notify USCIS within 14 days of any change in the nonimmigrant religious worker’s employment. The petitioner must also notify USCIS when the employment is terminated.  In order for the religious worker to change employers, the new petitioner must file a new Form I-129, attestation and supporting evidence. 

      Petitioners must also notify USCIS of any R-1 employment terminations.  Please contact USCIS at one of the following addresses:

      Email:    CSCR-1EarlyTerminationNotif@uscis.dhs.gov

      Mailing:  U.S. Department of Homeland Security
                    U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
                    California Service Center
                    Attn: BCU Section Chief
                    P.O. Box 30050
                    Laguna Niguel, CA 92607-3004

      What should I do if the location of my employment changes?

      Changes in location of employment may constitute material changes to the terms and conditions of employment as specified in the original approved R-1 petition. If there is a material change in the terms or conditions of employment (or the beneficiary’s eligibility), the petitioner may be required to file an amended petition and receive an approval prior to the beneficiary’s move to a location of employment other than that listed on the original approved R-1 petition.

      Ministers, as opposed to other religious workers, may move from ministry to ministry within a denomination without a new petition, so long as the parent organization is the petitioner.  If it is anticipated that the minister will be moved between different locations within the same denomination, the parent organization should file as the petitioner rather than the individual organization, and list each ministry where the minister will be working on the I-129. In such cases, USCIS requires the group tax determination letter issued to the parent organization, along with authorization from the group tax exemption holder that lists each specific ministry that may employ the beneficiary.  

      An amended petition can be filed, with fee, by checking box f under item 2 in Part 2 of Form I-129. 

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      SCHEDULE A SESSION

      Call or email us to set up your 1-hour consultation. Easily pay the $250 consultation fee over the phone or through our email link. If you would like to have a quick chat with our team before setting up the consultation, feel free to use the calendar on the right to book your 10 minute call.

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