Worship Leader Granted R-1 Religious Worker Visa Within Two Weeks

R-1 Visa For A Worship Leader Approved Within Two Weeks

Year: 2019
Client: Ms. Chen
Country/Region: China
Application Category: R-1 Visa
Position: Worship Leader
Time: 2 Weeks

Challenges In This R-1 Visa For A Worship Leader Case:

  • Ms. Chen had no formal theological training and did not qualify for the position as routinely defined for R-1 religious workers.
  • Ms. Chen was baptized in recent years and only met the minimum criteria for two years of church membership.
  • Ms. Chen’s R-1 application was to serve as a worship leader, which USCIS may not classify as a purely religious position such as a pastor, imam, or priest.
  • Ms. Chen’s employer was a large, busy church that was not mobile and flexible enough to cooperate in providing supporting documents.


When it comes to immigration, the pros and cons are likely to be reversed. For example, it may seem easy for a large, multi-million dollar, well-established company to file a professional immigration application for its employees, but it is not. We have found that it is difficult to get large companies to provide the necessary documents for their employees’ immigration applications for fear that one mistake might expose the company to high taxes or be found to have violated the law in some way. Therefore, it is not easy to obtain detailed documents from large companies with complicated structures.

This was the case for one of Tsang & Associates’ recent R-1 visa clients, Ms. Chen. Ms. Chen came to the United States as a student and studied music and art in college, during which time she found a large church that allowed her to dedicate herself to her faith. After interning at her church for over a year, Ms. Chen decided to continue working for this church.

In addition to the complications of securing a large company to work with a new potential employee, Ms. Chen faced several other disadvantages. In the U.S., applying for an R-1  visa has historically been viewed as a high fraud rate visa type. As other categories of U.S. visa applications have become more complex and difficult, visa fraudsters have turned their attention to the R-1 – the religious worker visa – as a way to enter the U.S. This visa fraud was once prevalent. With the crackdown on R-1 visa fraud in the United States, USCIS has increased its scrutiny of those seeking to obtain R-1 visas.

Originally, much of Ms. Chen’s case initially felt like potential fraud. For example, she was baptized less than a year before she entered the church as an intern, had been a believer for a very short time, had no religious training, and was not even sure if her position as a worship leader qualified her for R-1 visa when she first called Tsang & Associates. This all made it seem like she had only heard that she could stay in the United States if she worked at a church and decided to do so, rather than finding her faith and resolving to pursue a career in a field she loves.

Although this made the case much more difficult, it was not hopeless. Through several communications with the client, the team decided to take on Ms. Chen’s case, believing that she was a true practitioner of the faith who worked in a reputable church.



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 visa 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 that 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, such as worship leader, 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.

“Ms. Chen thought that working for the cathedral would help her with her R-1 visa application, but she soon found out that the cathedral was not mobile and flexible at all. Admittedly, the applicant wanted Ms. Chen to play the cello at one of their many churches, but if it was too much trouble, they would have just hired someone else, it seems. It was very difficult to get the immigration officer to believe that Ms. Chen’s R-1 petition was not fraudulent. We had to obtain the necessary files from this mega-church to prove that Ms. Chen’s position was R-1 eligible and that her petition was not fraudulent. In the end, it proved to be worthwhile. Ms. Chen was very happy to receive her R-1 visa, which she deserved. It is our goal to make sure our clients get what they deserve.” –Joseph Tsang, Case Manager

Therefore, while we were aware that Ms. Chen’s position itself and the process by which she was hired did not favor her being granted an R-1 visa, we looked at the strengths of this R-1 visa for a worship leader case. Ms. Chen was not a fraud; she had indeed found her faith, was faithfully committed to her church, and was highly attuned to it. She was a very accomplished cellist and the church she served was highly regarded. From this perspective, working for the cathedral was to Ms. Chen’s advantage. We wrote heavily on Ms. Chen’s qualifications as a Christian musician, as not every musician is able to implement theology in their musical worship and is willing to be employed by a church. We highlighted that this case for a worship leader was a golden opportunity to retain outstanding Christian artists for the church and America. We also noted that despite her short time in the church, there was ample evidence that Ms. Chen was active in the church and holds leadership positions that bode well for her bright, godly future.


Despite the issues with her case, we put together a complete and 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 crafted Ms. Chen’s R-1 visa 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. Ms. Chen’s R-1 visa as a worship leader was approved with no RFE, a rare occurrence for the time.

She was free to start her new job at the church and wouldn’t need to review her immigration situation for more than two years. We were glad to have helped Ms. Chen get started on her bright future as a worship leader at her church.

If you need assistance with your R-1 visa, or you have questions about the R-1 visa process, contact us to discuss your case. The team of immigration attorneys at Tsang & Associates would love to help.

*Name has been changed to protect client identity.

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