Maintaining An R-1 Visa After An Employer Change

Maintaining An R-1 Visa After An Employer Change

Applicant: Organization D, a non-profit organization

Beneficiaries: Pastor Qian

Nationality: Chinese

Beneficiary Position: Pastor

Time: 11 months


  • Original petitioning church closed just three months after Pastor Qian’s arrival in the US
  • New employer is not a church
  • New employer lacks evidence to support its ability to pay Pastor Qian’s wages
  • Situation is time sensitive to ensure Pastor Qian and his family can stay in the US


The legal team of US immigration experts at Tsang & Associates has previously undertaken many R-1 visa cases (work visas for religious persons). This particular case is about losing a job after obtaining an R-1 visa and subsequently maintaining an R1 visa after an employer change. 

For people born in mainland China who want to work in the United States, in addition to the common H-1B (professional work visa) and L-1 visas (multinational corporate executives/technical personnel), there is also a type of work visa specially provided for religious people, namely the R-1 visa. This type of visa can also be connected with a green card in the future in an R1 to Green Card via EB-4 religious immigration.

In this R1 visa case our client, Pastor Qian, had originally worked with Tsang & Associates to apply for an R-1 visa to work at church in the United States. This R1 visa was approved and Pastor Qian came to the United States with his family. However, just three months after arriving, the church unfortunately closed. This left our client without a job, without immigration status, and with an immediate need to find a new sponsoring organization.

Fortunately, Pastor Qian found a new organization to hire him and returned to Tsang & Associates for assistance with his R1 case.

It took one year for an emergency change of employer to be approved enabling our client to maintain his R1 visa.

Key R-1 Visa Requirements:

Religious workers include persons appointed by prominent religious groups to conduct religious services and perform other duties (usually performed by religious clergy), as well as persons engaged in religious professions or work. To apply for a religious worker visa, the following criteria should be met:

• You must belong to a religious denomination that is a nonprofit religious group recognized under US law.
• Your religious denomination and its affiliates (if applicable) must be tax-exempt or have tax-exempt status.
• You must meet the following criteria:
(a) have been a member of a denomination for two years prior to applying for a religious worker visa
(b) plan to serve as a pastor of your denomination or hold religious work in a legal nonprofit religious group (or a tax-exempt affiliate of such a group)
(c) have lived outside the United States in the year preceding the application and have previously served in the denomination for five years

The R-1 visa does not allow “dual intent” and requires proof that the religious worker must leave the United States after the statutory time has expired.



In this case we had to provide clear evidence to that our client and his new employer, a non profit organization, met all of the R-1 visa requirements.

Proving the Legitimacy of Hiring Beneficiaries
Because Organization D was not a church in the United States, but a non-profit organization that provided related services for churches, we knew we would need to provide documentation to show Organization D was a religious affiliated nonprofit. We also had to address the fact that the organization was very small. With four employees, we knew this may raise questions such as “why does the organization need to hire a pastor from China?”

The Tsang & Associates team made a detailed explanation of the nature and purpose, activities, organization chart, staff positions, existing members, and volunteer status of Organization D, which proved the legitimacy and rationality of organization’s employment of Pastor Qian.

Proving the Ability to Pay Wages
Although Organization D had a history, it had no tax bills and limited funds. However, the annual salary of $36,000 was given to Pastor Qian, which accounted for nearly 2/3 of the sum of the salaries of the other four employees. We needed to address why Pastor Qian would enjoy such a “high salary” and prove that the salary could actually be paid.
To do so the Tsang & Associates team combined Pastor Qian’s qualifications, Organization D’s development plan, financial analysis, and asset status to prove the financial capabilities of the new employer.

Proving the whole family of the beneficiary will not become a public burden in the United States
During the three months that Pastor Qian came to work in the United States, due to the difficulties of the previous church, they had failed to pay the salary that had been agreed upon. This lack of income made it difficult for Pastor Qian to prove that he had maintained his legal R-1 status after coming to the United States.

Turning to Organization D, although Organization D offered an annual salary of $36,000, for a family of five, this may not have been seen as enough to support the whole family and not become a public burden in the United States. In response to this point, our team emphasized other benefits provided by the employer, and Pastor Qian’s own financial situation, to highlight that his income would be sufficient to maintain the family’s life in the United States.

Addressing the Visa Application Quickly to Meet The Immediate Need For A New Work Visa
Both R-1 and H-1B belong to work visas without a grace period. Once the work ends, visa status in the United States also ends. This means the whole family would need to leave the United States immediately, otherwise they would have an illegal stay. Once you stay in the United States illegally for more than 180 days, you face the problem of being barred from entering the United States for 3 years.

In Pastor Qian’s case, his family had made preparations for long-term work in the United States. They had quit their jobs in China and made arrangements for their property there. If Pastor Qian’s application maintain his R-1 visa was not allowed, the resulting loss of opportunity and the problem of being barred from entering the country would be significant. In processing this case the Tsang & Associates team acted quickly and prepared the case diligently to make the best case for Pastor Qian.



After full and meticulous preparation, Pastor Qian was able to maintain his R1 visa as his new R-1 application was finally approved after 11 months! The pastor and his family were able to stay in the United States as they had originally planned. 



The R-1 religious worker visa is not very common for Chinese applicants. This type of visa and immigration does not qualify as political asylum.

According to U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) §101(a)(15)(R), persons wishing to enter the United States to work temporarily in religious groups are required to apply for an R1 visa.

If you need assistance with an R1 visa or an EB-4 green card, get in touch with us. Our team is experienced in assisting religious workers in securing a visa. In addition, Attorney Joseph Tsang also has a pious religious belief and a deep understanding of the church, which is also of great help to religious worker visas and immigration applications.

The Trump administration has tightened immigration policies, especially targeting those who may be a public burden on American society. If the employer does not pay or has insufficient ability to pay wages, the visa approval may become increasingly strict. For professional assistance, please contact Tsang & Associates.

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