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Religious Worker (R1)

The R-1 classification applies to a religious worker. This is an alien coming to the U.S. temporarily to work:

  • 1. As a minister of religion,
  • 2. As a professional in a religious vocation or occupation, or
  • 3. For a bona fide nonprofit religious organization at the request of the organization, in a religious occupation which relates to a traditional religious function.
The applicant (religious worker) must have been a member of a religious denomination having a nonprofit religious organization in the United States for at least the two years immediately prior to the application date. To be eligible, the U.S. petitioning organization must be a nonprofit religious organization granted (or eligible for) tax exempt status, and must demonstrate that it can and will provide for all of the R-1 beneficiaryís financial and physical needs.

If the alien is outside the U.S., he or she may apply directly to a consulate for an R visa. If visa exempt, the alien may apply at a port of entry.

If the alien is inside the U.S., the religious organization may use the I-129 to petition for a change of status, extension of stay, or change of employment.


Dependents (spouses and unmarried children under 21 years of age) of R-1 workers are entitled to R-2 status with the same restrictions as the principal. Dependents may be students in the U.S., but may not be employed under the R-2 classification. Note: Dependents should file for a change of status or extension of stay on Form I-539 (Application to Extend/change Nonimmigrant Status).

Petition Document Requirements

The I-129 petition may be filed by an authorized official of the U.S. organization and must be filed with:
  • 1. A written statement from an authorized official of the religious organization that will be employing the alien establishing that the alien has been a member of the denomination for the required two years, a description of the proposed position, and that the alien is qualified for the position, the arrangements, if any, for salary, benefits, and other compensation the name and location of the place the alien will provide the services the organizationís affiliation with the denomination (note: if the alien is to be employed, the CIS requires that this letter be from the organizational unit responsible for maintainingI-9ís);
  • 2. Evidence showing that the religious organization or any affiliate which will engage the alienís services is a bona fide nonprofit, religious organization in the U.S. and is exempt from taxation in accordance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986.
Bona fide nonprofit religious organization: BCISregulations consider an organization exempt from taxation under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 as it relates to religious organizations (or one that never sought such exemption but establishes eligibility for exempt status) to be a " bona fide nonprofit religious organization."

Religious worker: Religious workers include ministers of religion who are authorized by a recognized denomination to conduct religious worship and perform other duties usually performed by members of the clergy such as administering the sacraments, or their equivalent. The term does not apply to lay preachers.

Minister: A minister is an individual duly authorized by a recognized religious denomination to conduct religious worship and to perform other duties usually performed by authorized members of the clergy of that religion.

Professional capacity: Employment in an activity in a religious vocation or occupation is considered to be a "professional capacity" if the minimum of a US baccalaureate degree or a foreign equivalent degree is normally required.

Religious occupation: A "religious occupation" means an activity that relates to a traditional religious function. BCISregulations identify a number of examples, including religious instructors, cantors, workers in religious health care facilities, missionaries, and religious translators. The BCISregulations expressly do not include such occupations as janitor, maintenance worker, clerk, or fund-raiser. The activity of a layperson who will be engaged in a religious occupation must relate to a traditional religious function. The activity must embody the tenets of the religion and have religious significance, relating primarily, if not exclusively, to matters of the spirit as they apply to the religion.

Religious Vocation: BCISregulations define a "religious vocation" to mean a calling to religious life evidenced by the demonstration of commitment practiced in the religious denomination, such as the taking of vows. The examples provided include monks and nuns.

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