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R-1 Visa Approval Despite Having No Membership with Church

R-1 Visa Approval Despite Having No Membership with Church

  • Client: Ms. Chen
  • Nationality: Chinese
  • Applying For: R-1 Visa
  • Time: 2 weeks
  • Challenges:
    1. Client had no religious training
    2. Client had a short history with religion and Christian Faith- no membership
    3. Client’s position may not have qualified for R-1
    4. The large, corporate church was inflexible with what documentation they would provide
    5. Excessive R-1 fraud meant higher difficulty in getting approval



When it comes to immigration issues, sometimes things that seem like advantages are actually drawbacks. It seems like if you want to come to the United States to work for a major, multi-million-dollar company, the fact that the company is so big and so successful should be a boon in your favor, no? Oftentimes it is not that simple. We have found getting large companies to give us the necessary documentation for the people they want to employ is like pulling teeth. Every big company is wary of accidentally exposing themselves to excess taxes or being found to be breaking the law, and thus getting thorough documentation from the largest, most complicated companies is not always easy. This was the case for our client, Ms. Chen. She came to the United States as a student and learned the art of music while here in college. During her time in college, she found a large church where she could practice her religion, and after more than a year with the church, she decided she would like to stay in the United States and work for them. Beyond the complications of trying to get a large company to work with a new potential employee, Ms. Chen had several other factors working against her. The type of visa she was trying to secure, an R-1 visa, was recently subjected to a high amount of fraud here in the United States. With the U.S. making the process of other ways of immigration more complicated and more difficult, fraudsters turned to the R-1, a visa for a person with a religious occupation who wanted to work in the U.S., and it became the vogue way to enter the country for a time. With the U.S. cracking down on R-1 fraud, it has heightened the scrutiny of every person who wants to get an R-1 visa.

Unfortunately for Ms. Chen, a lot of her case did indeed look like potential fraud. It had not been very long since she was baptized, less than a year before she started interning at the church. She didn’t have a long history with religion, she didn’t have any religious training whatsoever, and it was unclear when she came to us over the phone whether or not her position would qualify for an R-1 visa. All of this made it look like she had simply heard that she would get to stay in the U.S. if she worked at a church and that’s what she decided to do, rather than the actual case of her finding her faith and wanting to make her career in a field that she loved. This, plus the sometimes-difficult nature of working with large corporations made Ms. Chen’s case difficult, but not impossible. We agreed to take on her case.



The first step to securing Ms. Chen’s case was to ensure that her petitioners, the large corporate church, gave us all of the documentation that the R-1 requires, which is substantial. The petitioner must prove they are a tax-exempt religious organization, they must secure a letter from a different organization saying that the petitioning church is of the same denomination as them, they have to provide the new employee’s tax information, they have to prove they intend to pay the new employee, they have to prove they have the money to pay the new employee, and they have to show whether or not their new employee will be self-supporting and provide evidence as to how they will help the employee if they are not self-supporting. That is a massive amount of documentation to secure from any corporate entity, and the bigger the corporation, the more hoops there are to jump through.

Another part of the R-1 process is to make sure that the position is one in which only a member of the church or religion could do. Ms. Chen’s position was technically called a worship leader, but the initial version of her job description was essentially to sit in the back, out of sight, and play cello at all major events. This job, as it was initially described, could have been performed by any person of any faith or no faith. We also wanted the church to provide information on the hiring process because that is often a boon to proving when a position should be considered a religious position. Often, smaller churches have meetings with elders, conclaves and boards, or they have bylaws that must be followed. However, with the corporate nature of this church, she was simply hired as one would be working for any corporation; she interviewed, the interviewer liked her, and she got the job.

“She thought working for a big mega-church would be helpful, but she quickly found out how inflexible they are. Sure, they wanted her to play cello for one of their many churches, but if it was going to be too much trouble, they could just hire someone else, or at least that seemed like their mindset. Along with the fraud going on, it was a difficult case. We had to get all the documents from the big church, prove that the position qualified for an R-1, and prove she wasn’t a fraud. In the end though, it was worth it. She was very happy that she got her R-1 and she deserved her R-1. Getting the clients what they deserve is our goal.” – Case Manager

So, while we knew that the position itself and her hiring process might have been a snag in getting Ms. Chen her R-1, we focused on the strengths of her case. She was not a fraudulent person; she had found her faith and was deeply committed to her church. Ms. Chen and the church had a high level of compatibility. She was an excellent cello player, and the church in question was also of very high quality. In this way, working for a big, expensive church was very helpful for Ms. Chen. We focused on her qualifications as a musician. It is not every day that musicians of Ms. Chen’s quality are even available for churches to hire, so we made sure to argue that this was a golden opportunity for the church and for the United States to retain a very talented artist. We also pointed out that while her history with the church was not long, she was getting more active with the church and more active inside leadership roles, indicating that she had a bright future.



Despite the issues with her case, we put together a complete comprehensive brief. We wanted to stylize our argument so that a case officer would feel the pull towards approval, not feel the tendency for denial or for more questions, the latter of which would have generated a Request for Evidence (RFE). We didn’t want to take a chance on an RFE coming in asking for things we may not have been able to provide, nor did we want to have to work more with the large church’s corporate structure. Thus, we stuffed Ms. Chen’s filing with as much documentation as possible and sent it off.

Our comprehensive filing with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services proved a wise choice. She was approved for her R-1 with no RFE, a rare occurrence for the time. She was free to start her new job and wouldn’t need to review her immigration situation for more than two years. We were glad to help Ms. Chen start her bright future with the church.

*Name has been changed to protect client identity

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