Religious Worker (R Visa) Information & Frequently Asked Questions

Legal Authorities For A Religious Worker #


Eligibility Requirements For a Religious Worker #

Religious Worker Adjustment of Status Eligibility Requirements 
The applicant has been inspected and admitted or inspected and paroled into the United States. 
The applicant is physically present in the United States at the time of filing and adjudication of an adjustment application. 
The applicant is eligible to receive an immigrant visa because the applicant is the beneficiary of an approved Form I-360 classifying him or her as a special immigrant religious worker.[8]
The applicant had an immigrant visa immediately available when he or she filed the adjustment of status application[9] and at the time of final adjudication.[10]
The applicant is not subject to any applicable bars to adjustment of status.[11]
The applicant is admissible to the United States or eligible for a waiver of inadmissibility or other form of relief.[12]
The applicant merits the favorable exercise of discretion.

Documentation and Evidence #

An applicant should submit the following documentation to adjust status as a religious worker: 

  • Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status (Form I-485), with the correct fee;
  • Copy of the Approval Notice (Form I-797) for the principal applicant’s special immigrant religious worker petition;[27]
  • Employment letter from the applicant’s Form I-360 employer-petitioner;[28]
  • ​Two passport-style photographs;
  • ​Copy of government-issued identity document with photograph;
  • ​Copy of birth certificate; 
  • Copy of passport page with nonimmigrant visa (if applicable);
  • ​Copy of passport page with admission or parole stamp (if applicable);
  • ​Copy of Arrival/Departure Record (Form I-94) or copy of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) admission or parole stamp on the travel document (if applicable);[29]
  • Evidence of continuously maintaining a lawful status since arrival in the United States;
  • Any other evidence, as needed, to show that an adjustment bar does not apply or that the applicant qualifies for an exemption;[30]
  • Report of Immigration Medical Examination and Vaccination Record (Form I-693);[31]
  • ​Certified police and court records of criminal charges, arrests, or convictions (if applicable);
  • ​Application for Waiver of Grounds of Inadmissibility (Form I-601) or other form of relief (if applicable); and 
  • ​Documentation of past or present J-1 or J-2 nonimmigrant status, including proof of compliance with or waiver of the 2-year foreign residence requirement under INA 212(e) (if applicable).

In addition, a spouse or child who is filing as a derivative applicant should submit the following:

  • Copy of documentation showing relationship to the principal applicant, such as a marriage certificate or adoption decree (if applicable);
  • Copy of approval notice (Form I-797) for the principal applicant’s Form I-360; and
  • Copy of the approval or receipt notice (Form I-797) for the principal applicant’s Form I-485 or a copy of the principal applicant’s permanent resident card (Form I-551), (if applicable and not filing together with the principal applicant).

Additional Information #

Bars to Adjustment #

Unless exempt, religious workers and their derivatives are ineligible for adjustment of status if any of the bars to adjustment of status apply. Religious workers and their derivatives may be exempt under INA 245(k) from some of the bars to adjustment. To qualify for an exemption, the applicant must not have accrued more than 180 days of certain immigration violations since his or her last lawful admission. If the applicant does not qualify for the exemption, then the applicant remains subject to the adjustment bars.

Sunset Date #

Except for ministers, all other religious workers and their derivatives must adjust to LPR status on or before the designated sunset date.[from USCIS] USCIS denies any adjustment applications based on special immigrant religious worker petitions (other than for ministers) that are pending or filed after the designated sunset date.

Treatment of Family Members #

The spouse or child (unmarried and under 21 years of age) of a religious worker may accompany or follow-to-join the principal applicant if the spouse or child is otherwise eligible.[USCIS Policy Manual] The spouse and child may, as derivative applicants, apply to adjust status under the same immigrant category and priority date as the principal applicant. 


Frequently Asked Questions About Religious Worker Visas #

Q: What are the first steps to receiving an R-1 visa?

A: The petitioning religious organization must first file form I-129 (Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker). Workers who are visa exempt must carry a copy of the I-797 approval notice when they enter the US.

Q: Can I work for another employer once I am in the US as an R-1 religious worker?

A: Yes. However, the new employer must petition you for a new visa.

Example, if you wanted to go work for another religious organization, they would need to sponsor you for a new R-1 visa (If the prospective employer is not a religious body, they would need to sponsor you for another type work visa).

Q: Once I enter the US on my R-1 visa, am I allowed to leave and then reenter the US on my R-1 status?

A: As long as the R-1 visa remains valid, you may travel to the US. However, the validity period of the R-1 visa may not be as long as the authorized period of stay. Additionally, the number of reentries that may be made on an R-1 visa varies depending on the country of citizenship of the religious worker. Time spent outside of the US cannot be recaptured. Please see the next questions for explanation.

Q: I am on my R1 extension, and am about to reach the 60 month limit. I spent 6 months outside the US while holding R1 status. Do the 6 months spent outside the US count against my R1 60 month limit?

A: Yes, the 6 months spent outside the US counts against your 60 month R1 status limit. Time spent outside the US while on R1 status cannot be recaptured. In other words, you cannot seek an extension of your R1 status based on your absence from the US. After the 60 month limit is reached, you must leave the US and remain outside the country for a full year before seeking R1 status again.

Q: What kind of religious workers are eligible for an R-1 visa?

A: Individuals seeking an R-1 visa can be members of clergy (ministers, priests, monks, rabbis, officers, etc) or classified as ‘other religious workers’ who perform religious duties directly related to carrying out the beliefs and creed of the religious organization. However, all applicants bear the burden of proof that they are a religious worker and current member of the denomination. Volunteers and other non-religious centric employees (Such as janitors, musicians, clerks, fundraisers,etc) are not eligible for R-1 status. The intending worker does not need to be currently employed by the organization abroad, but must prove they have been a member of the denomination for a minimum of two years prior to filing.

Q: How long will it take to receive my visa if I am outside the US?

A: It is impossible to accurately guess without knowing more information and even then it is difficult because there are a number of factors that could affect this. Consular processing times vary from office to office.

Q: How can I become a permanent resident after working on an R-1 visa?

A: Religious workers may seek to become US permanent residents through the Eb-4 ‘Special Immigrant: religious worker’ category. The requirements are nearly identical to that of the R1 category; with the additional requirement that the intending immigrant must have two years of full-time religious work immediately prior to filing. The intending immigrant can be self-petitioning or be petitioned by a religious non-profit organization. There is no annual cap for religious workers who fall under the ‘minister’ category, and a 5000 annual cap on all other religious workers in the Eb-4 category. Eb-4 religious workers must wait for their I-360 application to be approved before they can filed to adjust status, if already in the US. There is no labor certification process for Eb-4 religious workers, however a work offer is required.

More information available on the USCIS website page for religious workers.

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