The R-1 Visa – We put our faith in God, the rest is up to us!!!

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By Michael Phulwani, Esq. and Dev B. Viswanath, Esq.
The R-1 visa is a non-immigrant visa for foreign religious workers to work in the US. A religious worker is one who is a minister or a person working in the religious vocation or occupation. An R-1 visa holder must work for either a non-profit religious organization in the US, a religious organization that is authorized by a group tax exemption holder to use its group tax exemption, or a non-profit organization which is affiliated with a religious denomination in the US. This visa is granted to religious workers whose lives are dedicated to religious practices and functions. A religious occupation is defined as an occupation whose duties must primarily relate to a traditional religious function, be recognized as a religious occupation within the denomination, and primarily related to teaching the religious faith and beliefs of the denomination. Religious occupations as a general proposition, do not include positions such as janitors, maintenance workers, clerks, or similar occupations.
The first step is for a prospective or existing US employer must file a petition on behalf of the foreign national requesting to enter the US as a non-immigrant minister, or religious worker in a religious vocation or occupation. The foreign national must have been a member of the same religious denomination having a real non-profit religious organization in the US for a least two years directly before the filing of the petition. Once the petition is approved, the consular post will then determine whether the foreign national is qualified to receive the R-1 non-immigrant visa. When submitting the petition you must also include evidence to support qualification for the R-1 visa. Both the petitioner and the beneficiary must satisfy certain requirements in order to approve the R-1 visa.
Under this visa individual’s may live and work in the United States for up to thirty months, and then apply for an extension for an additional thirty months. If an individual would like to stay in the US for more than sixty months, they must live and be physically outside of the US for at least one year and then they will be eligible for an R-1 visa again. Any dependents of R-1 non-immigrant’s, spouse and children under the age of 21, may be eligible for R-2 nonimmigrant status. However, dependents are not allowed to work and R-2 status is granted for no longer than the period of time granted to the principal R-1 nonimmigrant.
Since the R-1 visa is a temporary visa, non-immigrant religious workers must intent to leave the US when their non-immigrant stay expires. If there is a change of location of employment the petitioner may need to file an amended petition and receive an approval before the beneficiary moves to the new employment location.
An R-1 visa holder who would like to become a green card holder must first work for two years under the R-1 visa status in the US and then have the same or another employer start the green card process. After the two years of work are complete, the first step is for the US employer to file Form I-360 with USCIS. Visa #s for religious workers are immediately available which means that after USCIS approves the application the employee can file an I-485, application to adjust status with USCIS in the US right away, or apply for an immigrant visa (green card) at the US consulate abroad.
The R-1 Religious Worker visa is the visa to be used for most specialized religious activities at any registered religious institution, be it a Temple, Mosque, Synagogue or other Religious House or Center. For institutions that are in need of assistance for work that is specifically carried out members of the faith as a profession, the R-1 visa can be a most useful tool. Especially when there may be a shortage of the workers in that capacity here in the United States.

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