R1 For A Music Student – An F1 Visa to An R1 Visa Case

R1 Visa For A Music Student

Full Video Transcript

Can you stay in the United States as a religious worker if you’re just an international student here studying music? This girl from New York was about to graduate, and she just really wanted to stay in the United States. She didn’t get picked for the H-1B Lottery, and she was looking around, and she found that the R1 was a possibility. But she was studying music; she’s not a minister, she didn’t go to theology school. Will it work? Her church loved her; she wanted to stay; she’s been serving. So, she reached out to us.

Grace was able to use our sample, talk to her, collect everything, and got the case approved without a request for evidence. And I have the case right here in front of me, and I’m going to walk you through everything that we did. Hope you enjoy.

Hi, my name is Joseph. I’m the managing partner here at Tsang & Associates, where we solve legal problems with creative solutions.

The difficult thing in doing an R1 case typically falls into two camps. One camp is, does a church have enough documents? Even if they’re huge churches, I’ve seen they don’t have the bylaws ready; they don’t have the mission statement; they don’t have the 501c, like government approval. It’s insane. 

The second thing is, does this person qualify as a religious worker? Right. If you went to seminary, if you’ve been a monk for 15 years and you’ve been ordained, if you’re a priest, sure, there’s a lot of documents. But you’re just like any other student that graduated college. In this case, she just studied music. 

So I’m going to go through everything; walk you through exactly how to do it; what to do. On page 31 of the R1 classification supplement, section one, question three: Provide a summary of the type of responsibilities of those employees who work at the same location where the beneficiary will be employed. This is so important. Because, again, if the organization, if the religious entity doesn’t have anybody else, then it’s much easier to deny the case. They might think, “Oh, this is not a real organization.”

How many members are in the religious organization? This small church only had 51 people. Number of employees working in the same position, never mind if they’re full salary, part-time, how you define it, they only have a few. A small mom-and-pop coffee shop might have more employees than five. And now you’re being such a small organization, you’re bringing on a what, right? So again, under section one, she is being brought on as a worship director. What is a worship director? And then we go on to explain everything. 

The thing about the forms is it’s easy to treat the forms as if, “Oh, it’s just a form. I only have to write like three words on it.” Don’t do that. With USCIS the number one thing they refer to is the form. The forms are arguably even more important than the cover letter, the brief, and all the supporting documents because that is what’s going to be scanned and logged in forever. Everything else could potentially be trashed, but that is there. You really want to put your best reasoning, best argument, best titles directly on the form.

Now the actual attorney brief. I just want to talk about the different categories, right? So we spent an entire page just talking about their nonprofit status. We provided eight documents to prove that this entity really is nonprofit. We went through to show exactly what they’re doing and how they’re nonprofit because we want to show the officer this is a real entity doing good in the world. We know R1, there’s a mandatory inspection. So the first thing we directly put on there is the schedule that they’re open because if the officer wants to approve this case, they’re going to send somebody to visit. If it’s not clearly seen when they can go, it just makes their work so much harder. And that’s why so many R1 cases get delayed for like six months, a year or longer. We just directly put it right in the front. Here’s the schedule. This, you send people at this time. This is what they do. There’s 50 to 60 congregants on a weekly basis. This is how much the tithes that they receive, and this is what they do.

And we just documented their entire social media, their websites, all the ministries that they’re supporting, all the people who love them, the thank you notes, and all the celebrations. So that’s all about the employer. 

Then we went on to talk about two-year membership. We went and documented the entire journey of her faith. That is so important. A lot of people, when they hear that we do these religious cases, like, “How do you prove you are a faithful member of this religion?” And a lot of it comes down to other pastors’ recommendation letters of her. The people who know you. The people who walked with this journey with you. The people who pray with you. The people who do Bible studies. The people who have seen your faith grow. There’s no better proof than that. 

And then we went on to talk about what are her duties as a worship director. We wanted to really demonstrate why the church needs it, why she qualifies to do it, what she’s going to be doing, that she’s kind of already doing it, what she’s doing while she is serving.

We used her resume, employment verification letters, sample work messages, her worship sets that she’s prepared. We really documented everything that she’s going to do, and we explained it well. 

Then everything else is just logistics, proof of salary, proof of ability to pay, her non-immigrant status coming in as an F1 student. And then the conclusion, talking about just this whole story of what the officer is approving. This is a church. This is a student. She’s coming as a worship director to serve the church. This is how long she’s going to stay, and then she’s going to leave the United States. And then exhibit list, explaining every single thing so the officer could see in just one page or two pages exactly why they qualify.

If you are a member of a particular faith, if you are serving in a religious capacity, don’t discount the R1, right? R1 can lead to EB4 so you can get a green card. It’s a great area to look into. And so if you have any questions, feel free to reach out. Take care. Bye-bye.


In this R1 for a music student case, our client was in the US on an F1 student visa studying music. She was about to finish her studies and wanted to remain in the United States, but didn’t get elected in the H-1B lottery. She was an active member of her church in the US and realized that an R1 visa may be a possibility for her to remain in the US while serving her church. That is when she first came to us at Tsang & Associates.




We have done many R1 visa cases, and in many of the cases there are challenges because the church doesn’t have the right paperwork or the applicant organization is not a church, there have even been cases where the applicant organization closed and the R1 visa beneficiary needed to find new employment. In this case, we didn’t have all of these challenges. We had an applicant that was a church and a music student in the US on an F1 student visa that was to serve as the worship director at the church, pending approval of her R1 visa.




The top challenge in this case was proving the responsibilities of a worship director and how our client was qualified for this position. She wasn’t a pastor and she hadn’t gone through religious training. Her formal education was in music. That made this case different from a more typical R1 visa for a pastor with religious training. 


Another challenge here was that the applicant congregation was small. They didn’t have many employees where this would be considered more normal to hire someone to lead worship or perhaps have several worship leaders. So we needed to explain this and make it easy to see why this student was to be hired for her skills, her faith, and why it made sense for the church to apply for this R1 visa for a music student.




Explaining the Qualifications of the Position


Part of the R1 visa is that you have the knowledge, skills, and background that qualify you for this job that you are about to do. Normally, an R1 beneficiary may have years of theological study or have been serving as a pastor for a long time in their home country, but for this client, she was a student and hadn’t previously completed religious studies. So we needed to demonstrate why she qualified for this position as worship director. We connected why the church needed the position and what she’d be doing with the fact that she’d already sort of been doing it. We collected her resume, employment verification letters, sample work messages, and her worship sets that she’d already prepared. We documented everything, we explained it well and we included all of this evidence in the application to fully explain the position and her qualifications.


Documenting Two Years of Membership


Part of the R1 visa requirements is that the beneficiary must be a member for a minimum of two years before filing. 

“Evidence that the religious worker is a member of a religious denomination having a bona fide non-profit religious organization in the United States for at least two years immediately before filing Form I-129” [Source: USCIS]

It’s important to include this information when submitting the R1 petition, but many people ask “How do you prove you are a faithful member of this religion?” 

Often it comes down to other pastors’ recommendation letters. Getting this confirmation from the people who know you, the people who walked this journey with you, the people you worship with and do Bible studies with. These are the people who have seen your faith grow and there’s no better proof than that. So we collected all of this information and documented it well.


Providing Details of the Church’s  Nonprofit Status


Proving the organization’s non-profit status is paramount in any R1 case. In this R1 for a music student, we spent a full page talking about the church’s non-profit status. We included 8 different documents to prove this status. To make it even easier, we know there is a mandatory inspection, or visit, to the organization in any R1 case, so we added the church’s schedule directly in the case documents. 

We know that a visit will need to happen, so we made it really easy to find when the church is open. When the visit could take place to make sure the schedule wasn’t a reason for any delay of the visa processing and approval.

There are several other R1 visa requirements to meet, but after these main points in this case, gathering everything else was just a matter of logistics. Once we had everything, we made sure that the whole story was clear and there was evidence to support the full story for this applicant.


In the end, the R1 for this music student was approved. Our client was able to stay in the United States after finishing her studies and continue worshiping and helping others to worship at her church. She was thrilled and our team was thrilled to have been able to help her move from an F1 visa to an R1 visa.




Many people think the forms for your visa application are just a form. It’s just there because it needs to be, but it doesn’t add anything to my case. Really the forms may be one of, if not the most, important documents in the application, because the form is what will be filed for your case. All the other documents submitted may not get saved. So you really want to make sure to provide all the details on your form rather than just adding a few words and considering it done.

If you need assistance with an R1 visa, you can learn more about our R-1 legal services or contact us with any questions. We would love to help.

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