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The R-1 religious visa can be a path to U.S. citizenship

On Behalf of | Dec 27, 2021 | Immigration

The U.S. government doesn’t just reserve its welcome mat to those employed in the fields of medicine, technology, agriculture and entertainment. It also has a route for those employed in the various fields of ministry to work in California and other U.S. states.

The R-1 visa

If you live outside the U.S. and have worked as a minister of some type for at least two years, you could be eligible for an R-1 visa. If you work for a bona fide non-profit ministry, the American counterpart of the religious organization for which you work could sponsor you. An R-1 visa is a non-immigrant visa for religious workers and includes pastors, ministers, priests, teachers, missionaries and interpreters.

The requirements for an R-1 visa are very specific and must meet qualifying employment standards. The sponsoring religious organization must be an established institution in the U.S., and the applicant must have been employed with that religious institution or another organization in the same denomination for a minimum of two years in the country in which they reside. The person must be able to prove that the sponsor is recognized by the IRS as a tax-exempt, religious institution.

A path to citizenship

Once your Form I-129 is approved, you, as the applicant, must file for the non-immigrant visa at your local U.S. embassy. The visa, once approved, will be valid for 2.5 years, after which it can be renewed two more times. Employment can be full- or part-time, but it must be a minimum of 20 hours a week. If you will not receive a salary, then you must demonstrate that you have sufficient finances to care for yourself and your family. Your qualifying family members will be allowed to come to the U.S. with you on an R-2 visa.

After five years in the U.S., you can potentially apply to become a permanent resident. Given the long lines of foreign nationals waiting for their cases to be heard in immigration courts, having an R-1 visa may move your case along more quickly. This could be life-changing for you and your family.