Worship Leader Granted R-1 Religious Worker Visa Within Two Weeks
Applicant: Ms. Chen
Application Category: R-1 Religious Worker Visa
Position: Worship Leader
Duration: two weeks
– Ms. Chen has no formal theological training and does 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 application to serve as a Worship Leader, which the USCIS may not classify as a purely religious position such as a pastor, imam or priest.
– Ms. Chen’s employer is a large, busy church that is 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 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 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 has historically been viewed as a high fraud rate visa. As other categories of U.S. 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.
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 qualified her for R-1 when she first called Tsang & Associates. This all makes 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.
Path to Success.
For Ms. Chen
The primary requirement for obtaining an R-1 visa is that its applicant –
with a membership of 500,000
The church was able to give us the extensive documentation necessary for the R-1 visa.
The applicant must certify itself as a tax-exempt religious organization, must have letters from other organizations translating its religious denomination, must provide financial documentation to prove its ability to pay salaries, must prove whether its new employees will be self-sufficient, and must provide evidence of how it will help if those new employees cannot be self-sufficient. This is a significant amount of paperwork for any company, and the larger the company, the more hurdles it has to overcome.
Another important part of the R-1 process is to make sure that only members of the church or religion are qualified for the position.
Ms. Chen’s position is “Worship Leader,” but since she specializes in cello and music performance, she is not the one standing in the center leading the congregation in worship. As mentioned earlier in the article, the immigration officer may have thought that the job was open to both religious and non-religious people. We expect churches to provide information about the hiring process, as this often facilitates the definition of a position as a religious one. Often, smaller churches will have a charter that must be followed through meetings with the elders, councils, and boards of trustees. However, this church, because of its corporate nature, Ms. Chen was just hired as any company a person might work for in general – Ms. Chen went to the interview, 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, and the applicant had that mindset. 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 Zang, Attorney at Law
Therefore, while we are 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 look at the strengths of the case. Ms. Chen is not a fraud; she has indeed found her faith, is faithfully committed to her church, and is highly attuned to it. She is a very accomplished cellist and the church she serves is highly regarded. From this perspective, working for the Cathedral is to Ms. Chen’s advantage. We have written 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 is a golden opportunity to retain outstanding Christian artists for the church and for America. We also noted that despite her short time in the church, there is ample evidence that Ms. Chen is active in the church and holds leadership positions that bode well for her bright, godly future.
Despite the many disadvantages in Ms. Chen’s application, we refined a comprehensive and strong application statement, personalizing the arguments so that the immigration officer would be inclined to approve rather than deny or request for additional documents (RFE) due to challenges, so that the immigration officer would not require additional documents that we could not provide in the notice of additional documents; and to avoid the trouble of obtaining more documents from the cathedral, we prepared the supporting documents and sent them to We prepared the supporting documents and sent them to the immigration office.
We were wise to submit detailed supporting documents to USCIS. Within two weeks, Ms. Chen was granted the R-1 petition for two years without any additional documents, which is a very rare result in such a short period of time! Ms. Chen is very happy that she can finally go to church to be a Worship Leader and dedicate herself to her faith.
*Pseudonyms are used in the cases to protect the privacy of our clients.
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