Understanding the R-1 Visa: A Guide for Religious Workers

Posted on Jan 19, 2024 by Chris Prescott

The R-1 visa is a niche visa category and facilitates the temporary entry of ministers and non-ministers in religious vocations and occupations into the US for the purpose of performing religious work. 


The employment must be with one of the following entities: (1) a non-profit religious organization in the US, (2) a religious organization with a tax exemption, or (3) a non-profit organization affiliated with a religious denomination in the US. The R-1 nonimmigrant must have been a member of the same religious denomination as the petitioner for at least 2 years immediately before it files the R-1 petition. 

An R-1 nonimmigrant must receive either salaried or non-salaried compensation. Salaried compensation is traditionally issued as a paycheck while non-salaried compensation means receiving support such as a housing allowance, transportation allowance, or health insurance. Alternatively, the individual may support themselves as a missionary within a recognized missionary program. 

Filing Process

A prospective or existing US employer must file Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, on behalf of the noncitizen who seeks to enter the US as a nonimmigrant religious worker in a religious vocation or occupation. The filing fee costs $460.00. Filing the petition under premium processing will cost an additional $2,805.00 starting February 2024.

USCIS can perform on-site inspections either before or after a final decision is made on the petition. The inspection will occur at the physical address where the religious worker will work as provided by the religious organization. During an inspection, USCIS may seek to verify information and supporting documentation in relation to the petition and inspect the religious worker’s work hours, compensation, and duties.

Period of Stay

An R-1 visa may be granted for an initial period of 30 months. Subsequent extensions may be granted for up to an additional 30 months. R-1 status may not exceed five years (60 months). 

Employer Obligations

An R-1 employer must notify USCIS within 14 calendar days of any changes made in relation to the religious worker’s employment. These changes may include whether the religious worker is working less than the required number of hours, has been terminated from employment, or has otherwise resigned from employment before the authorized stay has expired.

R-2 Dependents

The spouse and unmarried children below the age of 21 of a religious worker may qualify for R-2 classification as dependents. Individuals under R-2 status, however, are not authorized to work.


Despite the dynamic and ever-changing nature of immigration law, the continued existence of the R-1 program underscores the commitment to honoring and preserving religious traditions within the nation’s immigration system.

Patel Law Group handles religious visas and provides guidance throughout the application submission process. If you have any questions regarding the R-1 visa process, please email us at cprescott@patellegal.com and jtrevino@patellegal.com.