Religious Workers Visa

Religious Workers Visa


Passage Immigration Law specializes in Religious Workers Visas, Business Immigration and Family Immigration. With over ten years of experience and a broad range of lawyers at our disposal, we are eager to help you navigate the immigration maze in a way that brings clarity, peace of mind, and efficiency.

Additionally, with a strong theological and religious background to our team, we are passionate about helping a broad range of religious organizations and the religious workers that come in on R-1 visas from abroad, bringing wisdom, experience, and passion to the culture of the United States.


★ In fiscal year 2020, the United States issued a total of 3,819 religious worker visas, including 2,459 for nonminister religious workers and 1,360 for minister religious workers. (Source: U.S. Department of State)

★ The top five countries of origin for religious worker visa recipients in fiscal year 2020 were Mexico, India, the Philippines, Brazil, and Guatemala. (Source: U.S. Department of State)

★ The maximum number of Special Immigrant Nonminister Religious Worker visas that may be issued each fiscal year is 5,000. (Source: U.S. Department of Homeland Security)

In 2020, the United States issued 3,506 R-1 visas to religious workers. (Source: U.S. Department of State, “Nonimmigrant Visa Statistics.”)


★ 1952 – The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) was enacted, which established a temporary visa category for ministers and religious workers coming to the United States to work in a religious vocation or occupation.

★ 1986 – The Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) amended the INA and created the R-1 nonimmigrant visa category for religious workers. The R-1 visa allows religious workers to come to the United States to work in a religious capacity for up to five years.

Since the R-1 Visa was created, it has undergone numerous revisions up to the present time.

– Senator Dianne Feinstein

Religious workers play a vital role in communities across America, and our immigration policies should reflect that.

– Senator Orrin Hatch

Religious workers who come to the United States make invaluable contributions to our communities and enrich the cultural fabric of our country.


Access to Skilled Religious Workers: R-1 visas allow churches and religious organizations to hire skilled and experienced religious workers from other countries to fill positions that cannot be filled by U.S. workers. This provides these organizations with access to a broader pool of talent and expertise

Cultural Diversity: Religious workers from other countries bring a diversity of cultural backgrounds and experiences to churches and religious organizations, which can enrich the organization’s work and the lives of its members. This diversity can also promote greater understanding and tolerance among different cultures and religions.

Fulfillment of Religious Mission: Religious workers play a critical role in helping churches and religious organizations fulfill their religious missions. They provide important services such as pastoral care, teaching, and outreach to the community, and help to ensure that these organizations can carry out their work effectively

International Connections: Religious workers from other countries can also help churches and religious organizations establish connections with other communities and organizations around the world. This can help to expand the organization’s reach and influence and promote greater collaboration and understanding across different cultures and religions.


Be a member of a religious denomination that has a bona fide nonprofit religious organization in the United States.

The applicant must have been a member of the same religious denomination as the U.S. religious organization for at least 2 years immediately preceding the filing of the R-1 visa petition.

Coming to the United States temporarily to work at least part-time (an average of at least 20 hours per week) as a minister or in a religious vocation or occupation only for the non–profit religious U.S. organization. The U.S. religious organization must be able to prove its tax-exempt status and its affiliation with a religious denomination.


The first step is to ensure that the religious worker meets the qualifications for the R-1 visa.

Next, the U.S. religious organization that is offering the job must file a petition on behalf of the religious worker with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

If the USCIS approves the petition, the religious worker can apply for an R-1 visa at a U.S. embassy or consulate in their home country.

The religious worker will be required to attend an interview at the U.S. embassy or consulate.

If the consular officer approves the visa application, the worker will receive their visa and can enter the United States to begin working in their religious capacity.

Obstacles to a Religious Worker Visa

While the United States is generally welcoming to those attempting to visit the country on a religious worker visa, there are occasionally some obstacles that may come up in the process. Many of these are born out of an attempt to limit fraud, but they can be overcome. Some of the potential obstacles include:

  • Eligibility – As with any visa, there are some restrictions involved, and you must meet the applicable qualifications to be approved. In the case of an R-1 visa, you must generally be a member of a specific religious organization with at least two years of experience in a religious vocation. You must also be able to show a job offer from a U.S. religious organization. There are times when documentation proving that you meet all these requirements can be difficult to find.
  • The Legitimacy of the Religious Organization – Sadly, religion is not exempt from being abused by those who commit fraud. This means that the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services will look very closely to ensure that it is a legitimate religious organization that you are associated with.
  • Maintaining Status – Those coming to the United States on an R-1 visa must maintain their status the whole time that they are here. Something like unauthorized employment or other prohibited activities could threaten this.
  • Dependents – Religious workers who would like to bring their spouse or unmarried children under 21 with them to the United States may be able to do so, but it will require a separate application for an R-2 visa. Whenever there are more people involved, things like proper documentation can be tricky, so there could be some delay involved when getting approval.
  • Change of Status – In some cases, religious workers may already be in the United States on something like a travel visa when the opportunity to work for a religious institution in the country becomes available. If they wish to not have to leave and return to the United States, then they would need to change their status to an R-1. This can sometimes be a difficult process, and changing from a tourist visa to another status is always looked at with skepticism.

We Can Help You Get Your Religious Worker Visa

Immigration is an area that can often be subject to fraud, and this is sadly true of even the religious worker visa program. As a result, there is often significant scrutiny involved in the process. It’s critical that you have a thorough application that addresses any of the potential concerns. The key to navigating the application process is understanding what immigration officials are looking for and how to satisfy their concerns.

At Passage Immigration Law, we have experience working with immigration officials, and that allows us to understand what it is that they are looking to see from an application. We understand what kinds of supporting documentation should be submitted to help them see the validity of an application. If you are a religious worker interested in coming to the U.S. on an R-1 visa, contact us today to discuss your situation.


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