R Visas for Religious Workers
The R-1 visa is designed for temporary workers to be employed in the United States either by a non-profit religious organization or by an organization that is affiliated with a religious denomination. The R-1 visa is broadly defined as being available to “religious workers” in general. Thus, an important benefit to the R-1 visa is that it is not limited to ministers. In addition, the worker is not required to work a full-time schedule. A part-time schedule of 20 hours or more per week is sufficient.
To qualify for an R-1 visa, both the foreign worker and the nonprofit organization must meet strict requirements. The required evidence is substantial and is only briefly summarized here. The foreign worker must prove that she has been a member of the organization’s religious denomination for two (2) years immediately prior to filing the application. If the worker will serve as a minister, she must also provide proof of ordination or other similar documents. The organization must provide proof of its 501(c) (3) status or group tax exemption ruling, as well as proof of its affiliation with the denomination.
In most cases, the organization must compensate the worker, which can be either salary or non-salary (e.g., room and board). If salaried, the organization is not required to pay a pre-determined “prevailing wage” as with other employment-based categories, but must provide proof demonstrating the proposed salary, such as a prior salary history for similar employees, church budgets, and so forth. In very limited circumstances, a foreign worker can be entirely self-supporting.
Fraud and Site Inspections
Unfortunately, the R-1 visa category has seen more than its fair share of fraud. To combat misuse of the R-1 visa, USCIS has the authority to conduct on-site inspections to verify that the religious worker is working at the location(s) indicated on the application. If the inspection reveals irregularities or other suspicions, USCIS may issue a Notice of Intent to Deny to the petitioner.
Period of Stay
An R-1 visa holder may stay initially for 30 months, with a subsequent extension up for an additional 30 months. The worker may only spend a total of 60 months in R-1 status, but any time spent outside the United States is not counted toward the 60-month total and may be recaptured.
Spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21 may come with the religious worker as R-2 dependents, but are not allowed to work while in R-2 status.