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What is an R1 Visa and Who Qualifies?

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  • What is an R1 Visa and Who Qualifies?

    R1 is visas are specifically for foreign workers coming to the US to perform duties of a religious worker. Applicants must prove that

    i) they are a member of a religious denomination for at least 2 years,

    ii) who will work at a qualified organization,

    iii) as either a minister, a religious professional, or in another religious vocation.

    “Religious denomination” is defined as a religious group or community of believers having some form of ecclesiastical government, a creed or statement of faith, some form of worship, a formal or informal code of doctrine and discipline, religious services and ceremonies, established places of religious worship, or comparable indicia of a bona fide religious denomination. The definition is not narrowly construed. For example, being a member of a Buddhist monastery would be considered for membership of a religious denomination. Even a tax-exempt inter-denominational religious organization may be treated as a religious denomination. Membership duration may be established by sworn statements from other members.

    A qualified organization would be a non-profit religious organization in the United States, meaning that the organization either a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) religious organization, or that it would be eligible for such an exemption if it applied.

    The most typical R1 worker is a “minister,” which is defined as a person authorized by a denomination to perform religious worship. An authorizing official of the denomination in the US must declare the worker’s qualifications; therefore, a lay preacher can not be authorized.

    A “religious professionals” is an individual who will work in a professional capacity in a religious vocation or occupation. The key consideration is “professional capacity,” meaning that the religious vocation requires at least a US Bachelor’s degree or foreign equivalent for entry into the religious profession. Work experience can be given consideration to make up for a lack of formal education.

    Finally, “other religious workers” include “religious occupation workers” which are those who perform a traditional religious function, which may include religious instructors, missionaries, translators, and religious health care workers. Donation solicitors, clerks, or any other jobs which are not inherently religious in nature, are not qualified. Religious occupation workers may be employed by non-profit organizations specifically affiliated with a religious organization. “Religious vocational workers” are also qualified, however, even if such a worker’s job is not inherent in nature. “Religious vocation” means that the person has committed themselves to a calling to religious life based on a specific demonstration of religious commitment. Formally taking vows, for example, would qualify. Monks or nuns serving their church are typical examples of religious vocation workers.
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