R1 Visa Guide: Everything You Need to Know About the R1 Visa

R1 Visa


Religious workers interested in pursuing religious work in the United States may consider pursuing the R1 visa. The R1 nonimmigrant visa allows religious workers to work for a qualifying nonprofit religious organization or church for a maximum period of five years.


In this guide, I’m going to explain the important aspects of the R1 visa.


If you have any questions, or you need help with getting an R1 visa, email me at Michael@AshooriLaw.com.




  1. Introduction to the R1 Visa


  1. R1 Visa Benefits


  1. R1 Visa Requirements


  1. R1 Visa Process


  1. R1 Employment


  1. R1 Adjustment of Status


  1. Conclusion


1. Introduction to the R1 Visa


The R1 visa is designed to allow people to come to the U.S. to develop their religious vocation, religious occupation, or ministry. These categories come with specific criteria that must be fulfilled.


For example, those pursuing a religious vocation may be nuns, monks, or others who undertake a lifetime vow.


Those pursuing religious occupations must be those performing religious duties that deal with traditional religious functions and that relate to the faith on a fundamental level.


Finally, those entering as a minister must be a trained member of the clergy, work as a minister, and perform ministerial duties.


The religious denomination and organization must be bona fide groups. Our office can help you determine whether your organization counts toward this requirement.


2. R1 Visa Benefits


Can bring immediate family members


Under the R1 visa, a person can bring their spouse and children under R-2 status. They are not allowed to work in the United States. The reason for them coming to the United States must be to accompany the R1 holder.


Can Live in the United States


Under R1 visa status, a person can extend their stay in the United States up to 5 years.


Can Work in the Religious Organization as a Non-professional


There is no degree requirement for those pursuing religious occupations. Their job must simply include traditional religious functions.


Dual Intent Visa


The R1 Visa is a dual intent visa that allows applicants to pursue green card status if they so choose.


3. R1 Visa Requirements


Be a member of the religious denomination


One of the key requirements for the R1 visa is being a member of a religious denomination for at least two years before the time the application is submitted.


The religious denomination must be a bona fide nonprofit organization exempt from taxes under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986. They must have a determination letter from the IRS stating that they are tax exempt.


Be a religious worker coming to work


Religious workers must work at least on a part-time basis that averages 20 hours per week.


Or: Be a minister coming to work


A minister may come to perform a religious vocation or occupation. A minister is defined as someone with full authority granted by a religious denomination. They must be fully trained and conduct religious worship and other duties that the clergy conducts.


Must be petitioned for


The R1 is not a self-petitioning visa. Rather, you need someone to request that you come to the United States to work. They would fill out the Form I-129.


Can be petitioned for by multiple employers


On an R1, you can work for multiple qualifying employers as long as each employer submits a separate petition with documentation as USCIS requires.


4. R1 Visa Process


The R1 Visa process begins with the U.S. employer filing the Form I-129, Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker. In order to receive an R1 visa at a US Embassy or Consulate, there needs to be an I-129 approval given by USCIS.


The following evidence may need to be included with your petition:


  • A letter of support
  • Job description and duty chart with percentage of time for certain duties breakdown
  • A current and valid determination letter from the IRS showing that the organization is tax-exempt
  • Proof of compensation.
  • Self-support will only be considered for certain nonimmigrant missionaries.
  • Evidence of funding for compensation. The organization needs to demonstrate through past records, budgets, etc. just how the position will be compensated.
  • Documentation that confirms religious nature and purpose of organization. Such evidence can include books, brochures, flyers, and other religious literature.


If the religious worker will be self-supporting, the following evidence may need to be provided:


  • Proof that the position is part of an established, international missionary program sponsored by the denomination
  • Past R1 recipients
  • Proof that missionary workers are traditionally uncompensated
  • Proof of formal training for missionaries
  • Proof that such missionary work is part of religious development in this denomination
  • Description of duties and responsibilities
  • Religious worker’s bank records and other financial documents that demonstrate sources of support


The consulate or embassy will then determine whether the beneficiary is eligible to receive the R1 visa. However, Customs and Border Patrol will still have ultimate authority when it comes to allowing beneficiaries into the country.


5. R1 Duration of Stay


R1 holders can apply for extension of status or readmission under R1 status for up to 30 months as long as their stay is not more than 5 years maximum. After the extension is granted, the R-2 dependents must file a form I-539, Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status.


To be eligible to return to the U.S. after spending the full 5 years inside the U.S., the R1 worker must spend a total of one year outside the U.S.


Exceptions apply to R1 holders who do not live inside the United States continually, lived abroad and commuted to the United States, or whose work was seasonal, intermittent, or for less than six months per year. Proof needs to be provided of these conditions. Such evidence can be arrival-departure records, records of employment abroad, and tax returns.


6. R1 Adjustment of Status


Because the R1 visa is a dual intent visa, an R1 holder can pursue a multitude of visa options including immigrant visa options.


They can pursue non-immigrant visa options like the H-1B, F-1, and employment-based immigrant categories such as EB-2 and EB-3. The classification can therefore be changed without the issue of intent coming into play.


7. Conclusion


The R1 visa is an excellent visa for those seeking to perform religious vocations or occupations. Religious workers who may not qualify for employment under other visa categories may find that the R1 is suitable for them.


If you have any questions on any of the information discussed in this guide, feel free to email me directly at Michael@AshooriLaw.com. I’m very responsive to email and I would be happy to help you.


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Michael Ashoori Headshot

Michael Ashoori, Esq.

President of Ashoori Law

I’m a U.S. immigration lawyer and I help families, professionals, investors, and entrepreneurs get visas, green cards, and citizenship to the United States.

Since starting my law firm, I’ve helped hundreds of people from all over the world with their immigration needs. I’m very passionate, hard-working, and committed to my clients.

Got a question? Send me an email.