Religious Workers

EB-4 visas for Special Immigrant Religious Workers and R-1 visas are similar in key respects: beneficiaries of both categories are religious workers, and the application requirements overlap to a certain degree. The notable difference between the two is that an R-1 awards beneficiaries temporary nonimmigrant working visas, while an EB-4 awards beneficiaries permanent resident status based on their work.

Application Overview

For the subgroup of religious workers under the EB-4 category, intending immigrants must meet the following qualifications:

  1. Minimum of two years’ membership in a nonprofit religious organization that has a physical presence in the U.S.

  2. Minimum of two years’ work experience in a full-time (i.e. at least 35 hours per week) religious capacity at said organization

    • Qualifying jobs include ministers and other vocational religious positions

Individuals are able to petition on their own behalf, provided they can demonstrate a commitment to seeking and continuing their religious work in the U.S. A religious organization is alternatively able to petition on an alien individual’s behalf.

While there is no visa cap for those who fall under the ministerial employment category, which includes rabbis, priests, and imams, there is a 5,000 annual visa cap on all other religious workers, including monks, nuns, religious healthcare workers, religious counselors, and the like.

EB-4 vs. R-1

Most individuals who seek permanent resident status through an EB-4 visa have been or are currently in R-1 status in the U.S. Given the overlap between the EB-4 category for religious workers and the R-1 category, it’s worthwhile to delve into the clear similarities and crucial differences between the two visa types, as indicated in 8 C.F.R. § 204.5(m).


The following conditions apply to both EB-4 visas for religious workers and R-1 visas:

  • Employment

    -Aliens must have full-time, compensated employment performing religious work; compensation may be salaried or unsalaried, but must be documented in the application.


  • Professional categories of religious workers

    -Both visa categories are available to ministers, including priests, rabbis, and imams; vocational religious workers, including nuns, monks, liturgical workers, religious counselors, and religious healthcare workers; and other employees who play a direct role in the inculcation of religious doctrine or teachings, such as religious teachers.

  • Non-religious workers in religious settings are ineligible

    -Neither category is open to individuals who work at religious institutions but do not perform religious duties; such occupations include maintenance workers, janitors, clerks, accountants, fundraisers, choir members, musicians, or administrative personnel who are not involved in spreading the organization’s beliefs or doctrine.

  • Length of membership in denomination

    -Aliens must have been members of the religious denomination or sect for which they will work for a minimum of two years immediately prior to the date their petitions are filed.

  • U.S. presence of the nonprofit religious organization

    -The institution must have been operating in the U.S. for at least two years prior to petitioning for (or self-petitioning of) a religious worker.

  • Required evidence and documentation

    -Components of both petitions include: 501(c)(3) letters of verification; proof of compensation; proof of denomination membership; explanation of job duties; and copies of certificates of ordination or other prescribed theological requirements for the position offered, if applicable.

  • No labor certification requirement

    -However, a job offer is required for both visas.

  • Potential for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) onsite inspections

    -USCIS officers reserve the right to visit the religious organization where the beneficiary will work in order to verify that it is a nonprofit religious organization with a physical presence in the U.S.

  • Employment authorization for family members

    -Both categories allow for the immediate family members, i.e. spouses and children under the age of 21, to join the beneficiary in the U.S. and reap the benefits of employment.


EB-4 visas for religious workers and R-1 visas diverge in the following critical respects:

  • Duration and nature of stay
    1. EB-4: allows a religious worker to immigrate to the U.S. for religious work; accordingly, applicants must either immigrate if abroad or apply for an adjustment of status if in the U.S.; importantly, EB-4 beneficiaries are able to work indefinitely in the U.S. as permanent residents

    2. R-1: allows a foreign worker to temporarily accept employment in the U.S.; R-1 workers are eligible for an initial 30-month work authorization, with the potential for a 30-month extension, maxing out at 60 months before the worker must leave the U.S. for one full calendar year before reapplying for R-1 status

  • Work requirements
    1. EB-4: a religious worker must have been employed for two continuous years in a full-time, compensated religious capacity in the denomination specified in the application

    2. R-1: a religious worker only needs to have had membership, not employment, for a minimum of two years in the denomination specified in the application
  • Visa caps
    1. EB-4: no visa cap for workers who fall under the ministerial role, but all other religious workers (e.g., nuns) are subject to a 5,000 annual visa cap

    2. R-1: no visa cap or annual quota

  • Petitioner
    1. EB-4: a religious worker can either self-petition or be the beneficiary of a petition sponsored by the religious institution

    2. R-1: a religious worker cannot self-petition; the nonprofit religious organization petitions on behalf of the religious worker

For more information on the EB-4 visa, refer to the following links:

Updated 04/12/2017