The United States with its complex legal system has many temporary visas for many different circumstances. Religious worker programs are one such visa category, where ministers and non-ministers who are working in a religious vocation or occupation are allowed to enter the country temporarily for religious work. Keep reading to learn more about the religious worker program visa: who qualifies for one and the process to acquire one. Don’t hesitate to reach out to a New York City immigration attorney if you or someone you know is thinking about entering the United States on a temporary immigrant visa. We’ll be able to guide and help you achieve your goals.

Who Is Eligible for a Religious Worker Program Visa?

R-1 is the category used by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services to designate noncitizens entering the country to work at least twenty hours per week as a minister or in a religious capacity for a qualified employer.

In this case, a qualified employer means either a non-profit religious organization in the United States, a religious organization allowed to use a group tax exemption, or a non-profit organization associated with a religious denomination that exists in the United States. Similarly, a qualified applicant for an R-1 visa must have been a member of a genuine, non-profit organization for a minimum of two years before making the petition.

What Is the Process to Acquire a Religious Worker Program Visa?

As R-1 visas are classed as employment visas, a United States employer will have to submit a Form I-129 on behalf of the noncitizen who wants to enter the country under a religious worker program visa. If an eligibility requirement for an R-1 visa is at odds with how their religious organization indicates the faith must be conducted, then the petitioner is allowed to ask for an exemption by way of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).

Like any other visa, R-1s need to be submitted with certain documentation, and it is the responsibility of the petitioner to send that evidence. There are a few classes of needed documents.
Some documents are needed to prove that the organization employing the would-be visa holder is tax-exempt. Documents like the organization’s IRS 501(c)(3) letter, a valid determination letter from the IRS to the effect that the organization is tax-exempt, or a valid IRS group tax-exemption letter would all likely satisfy this requirement.

The petitioner also needs to submit evidence regarding how it is going to pay the religious worker entering on the R-1 visa, whether in money or in kind, or failing that, proof that the religious worker will be self-sufficient as part of the established religious program. Acceptable evidence here would be budgets showing the money set aside as pay, or proof that the organization has paid workers for similar jobs before.

Finally, the petitioning organization will be required to submit proof that the religious worker has been a member of the denomination for at least two years, as well as proof that the worker is capable of carrying out the responsibilities of the position for which they have been selected. The organization would submit a copy of the worker’s certificate of ordination, that the worker’s religious denomination accepted them as a minister, and proof of the theological education the religious worker received.