Religious Worker (R) visa category is available for foreign nationals who wish to enter the United States temporarily to work in a religious occupation or vocation. The R-1 religious worker visa is a nonimmigrant visa given for a maximum period of five years. The maximum initial stay for an R-1 is granted for 30 months and is extendable for another 30 months. Once the foreign national’s five years of lawful R1 status expires he or she must depart the U.S. and must be physically outside of the United States for one year in order to be eligible to enter the U.S. again on this visa category.
Religious workers are persons who conduct religious worship and perform religious duties usually performed by ordained or authorized members of religious denominations and engage in religious vocation or occupation. To be eligible for this type of visa category, the foreign national must be a member of the religious denomination for two years immediately preceding the religious worker petition; planning to work as a minister or in a religious occupation or vocation of that religious denomination, for a bona fide, non-profit religious organization; must intend to depart the U.S. at the end of their lawful status, absent specific indications or evidence to the contrary; and the foreign national must be coming to work for at least 20 hours a week on average for the petitioning entity.
Irrespective of where the foreign national is, that is whether in the U.S or in a foreign country, to apply for this classification first an I-129 petition needs to be filed with USCIS. All religious worker petitions are adjudicated by the California Service Center. Prior to adjudicating a R1 petition USCIS conducts a site visit of the petitioning entity to ensure that it is a bona fide functioning religious organization.