Q: What are the first steps to receiving an R-1 visa?
A: The petitioning religious organization must first file form I-129 (Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker). Until the I-129 is approved, the intending religious worker cannot receive their visa at a US Consulate or Embassy abroad. Workers who are visa exempt must carry a copy of the I-797 approval notice when they enter the US.
Q: Can I work for another employer once I am in the US as an R-1 religious worker?
A: Yes. However, the new employer must petition you for a new visa. For example, if you wanted to go work for another religious organization, they would need to sponsor you for a new R-1 visa. If the prospective employer is not a religious body, they would need to sponsor you for another type work visa.
Q: Once I enter the US on my R-1 visa, am I allowed to leave and then reenter the US on my R-1 status?
A: As long as the R-1 visa remains valid, you may travel to the US. However, the validity period of the R-1 visa may not be as long as the authorized period of stay. Additionally, the number of reentries that may be made on an R-1 visa varies depending on the country of citizenship of the religious worker. Time spent outside of the US cannot be recaptured. Please see the next questions for explanation.
Q: I am on my R1 extension, and am about to reach the 60 month limit. I spent 6 months outside the US while holding R1 status. Do the 6 months spent outside the US count against my R1 60 month limit?
A: Yes, the 6 months spent outside the US counts against your 60 month R1 status limit. Time spent outside the US while on R1 status cannot be recaptured. In other words, you cannot seek an extension of your R1 status based on your absence from the US. After the 60 month limit is reached, you must leave the US and remain outside the country for a full year before seeking R1 status again.
Q: What kind of religious workers are eligible for an R-1 visa?
A: Individuals seeking an R-1 visa can be members of clergy (ministers, priests, monks, rabbis, officers, etc) or classified as ‘other religious workers’ who perform religious duties directly related to carrying out the beliefs and creed of the religious organization. However, all applicants bear the burden of proof that they are a religious worker and current member of the denomination. Volunteers and other non-religious centric employees (Such as janitors, musicians, clerks, fundraisers,etc) are not eligible for R-1 status. The intending worker does not need to be currently employed by the organization abroad, but must prove they have been a member of the denomination for a minimum of two years prior to filing.
Q: How long will it take to receive my visa if I am outside the US?
A: Once form I-129 is filed, it takes roughly five months for USCIS to adjudicate the application. If the I-129 is approved, then the intending religious worker will need to undergo consular processing to receive the R-1 visa. Consular processing times vary from office to office, but typically one can expect to receive their visa within two months after beginning the consular process.
Q: How can I become a permanent resident after working on an R-1 visa?
A: Religious workers may seek to become US permanent residents through the Eb-4 ‘Special
Immigrant: religious worker’ category. The requirements are nearly identical to that of the R1 category; with the additional requirement that the intending immigrant must have two years of full-time religious work immediately prior to filing. The intending immigrant can be self-petitioning or be petitioned by a religious non-profit organization. There is no annual cap for religious workers who fall under the ‘minister’ category, and a 5000 annual cap on all other religious workers in the Eb-4 category. Eb-4 religious workers must wait for their I-360 application to be approved before they can filed to adjust status, if already in the US. There is no labor certification process for Eb-4 religious workers, however a work offer is required. Please see the link below for more information on the EB-4 category.
For more information about Visas, please click on one of the following links: