An R-1 religious worker is a foreign national who is coming to the United States temporarily to be employed as a minister or in another religious vocation or occupation at least part time (average of at least 20 hours per week) by:
- A non-profit religious organization in the United States;
- A religious organization that is authorized by a group tax exemption holder to use its group tax exemption; or
- A non-profit religious organization which is affiliated with a religious denomination in the United States.
This R-1 religious worker visa program is intended for religious workers whose lives are dedicated to religious practices and functions, as distinguished from secular members of the religion.
To qualify, the foreign national must have been a member of a religious denomination having a bona fide non-profit religious organization in the United States for at least two years immediately before the filing of the petition.
Religious occupations are defined as occupations whose duties must:
- Primarily relate to a traditional religious function;
- Be recognized as a religious occupation within the denomination; and
- Be primarily related to, and clearly involve, inculcating or carrying out the religious creed and beliefs of the denomination.
Religious occupations do not include primarily administrative or support positions such as janitors, maintenance workers, clerical employees, or fund-raisers or similar positions solely involved in soliciting donations. Limited administrative duties that are only incidental to religious functions are permissible.
Religious study or training for religious work does not constitute a religious occupation, but a religious worker may pursue study or training incidental to R-1 religious worker status.
Ministers are defined as individuals who are duly authorized by the religious denomination to which they belong, and are fully trained according to the denomination’s standards to conduct religious worship and other duties usually performed by the clergy. The regulations do not define a uniform type of training for religious denominations. When signing the petition, the petitioner must attest that the beneficiary is qualified to perform the proposed duties of the religious occupation to be performed in the United States.
The definition of denominational membership is premised on a shared faith and worship practices, and not on formal affiliation. Denominational membership means membership during at least the two-year period immediately preceding the filing date of the petition, in the same type of religious denomination as the U.S. religious organization where the beneficiary will work. The term “religious denomination” applies to a religious group or community of believers governed or administered under a common type of ecclesiastical government. A religious group or community of believers may demonstrate that they are a religious denomination by showing one or more of the following:
- A recognized common creed or statement of faith shared among the denomination’s members;
- A common form of worship;
- A common formal code of doctrine and discipline;
- Common religious services and ceremonies;
- Common established places of religious worship or religious congregations; or
- Comparable indicia of a bona fide religious denomination.
USCIS acknowledges that some denominations lack an ecclesiastical government or central governing body. The religious entity may seek to satisfy the religious denomination requirement by submitting a description of its own internal governing or organizational structure.