The Religious Worker (R) visa is for foreign nationals coming to the United States temporarily to work in a religious capacity.  Religious workers include persons who carry on the activities of a minister or who otherwise work in a religious vocation or occupation for, or at the request of, a religious denomination having a bona fide nonprofit religious organization in the United States.  The applicant must have been a member of the denomination for at least the two (2) year period immediately preceding application for religious worker status.

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 of that denomination. The term does not apply to lay preachers or persons not authorized to perform clergy duties.  A “religious vocation” means a calling to religious life, evidenced by the demonstration of a lifelong commitment (such as the taking of vows).  Examples include nuns, monks, and religious brothers and sisters.  The primary duties of a “religious occupation” must relate to a traditional religious function and be recognized as carrying out the religious creeds and beliefs of the denomination; positions that are primarily administrative or support-related are not included (such as janitors, maintenance workers, clerks, fund raisers, solicitors of donations, or similar occupations).
R visa holders may remain in the United States for up to five (5) years to pursue their vocation.

Spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21 may be granted R-2 visa status.  They may engage in a full-time or part-time study but may not accept employment in the United States.

The R visa may be available for the following individuals:

Ministers

A recognized religious denomination must have authorized the candidate to conduct religious worship and to perform other duties usually performed by authorized members of the clergy of that religion.

Licenses, ordination certificates, a formal letter of conferral etc. can serve as the evidence of such qualifications. Officers of the Salvation Army, deacons, and practitioners of Christian Science may as well be considered ministers.

Workers

Workers in a Religious Vocation or Occupation includes the following 2 types of workers:

Professional Workers

Professional Workers are the persons that want to work in a religious vocation or occupation that requires a U.S. bachelor degree or its foreign equivalent.

Other Religious Workers

Other Religious Workers are the persons that are working in a religious vocation or occupation.

Religious Vocations

A religious vocation means a calling to religious life, evidenced by the demonstration of a lifelong commitment, such as taking vows. Examples include nuns, monks, and religious brothers and sisters.

Religious Occupations

A religious occupation means a habitual engagement in an activity which relates to a traditional religious function. Examples include liturgical workers, religious instructors or cantors, catechists, workers in religious hospitals, missionaries, religious translators, or religious broadcasters. It does not include janitors, maintenance workers, clerks, fund raisers, solicitors of donations, or similar occupations. The activity of a lay-person who will be engaged in a religious occupation must relate to a traditional religious function: i.e., 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 Denominations

A religious denomination generally should have a formal code of doctrine and discipline, religious services and ceremonies, some form of ecclesiastical government, a recognized creed and form of worship, religious congregations and established places of worship. However, if an interdenominational religious organization is tax-exempt, it also may be treated as a religious denomination.
If you are located outside the U.S., you can apply directly at the U.S. embassy/consulate for an R visa. It is NOT needed for the sponsoring religious organization to first file the petition using the Form I-129. However, if you are already in the U.S., the religious organization must file the petition for a change of status, an extension of stay, or change of employment.

If your sponsor terminates the employment at any time, they are not obliged to pay your airfare to return back to your home country unless they have entered into a contract to do so.

The law office of James C.T. Hsia & Associates has extensive experience with of applications for nonimmigrant visas and will be happy to assist you.  Call our office at (703) 860 8822 or use the consultation form to describe your case.