R Visas

R visas are designed for nationals of a foreign country who wish to be employed in the United States in some religious capacity. This can include ministers, those undertaking a vocation with the religious sphere, or other types of religious workers.

If you are a holder of an R visa, you must commit to working a minimum of 20 hours per week within the United States. Furthermore, you must present proof that you have been a part of a bona fide and recognized religion for the past two years before you are able to petition for this type of visa. Typically, the R visa is valid for up to five years and it can be extended. Many people with R visas eventually apply for a green card. Petitioning for R visas can be complex and difficult for many. It is recommended that you contact an experienced and reputable immigration attorney before you begin the process. This can potentially save you time, money, and the headache of applying on your own. If you are interested in beginning the process, give the professionals at Florida Immigration Law Counsel a call to schedule your initial consultation today.

What is a visa Type R?

The R-1 Religious Worker and Minister visa is a US visa that grants qualified ministers and workers in a religious vocation or occupation to come to the United States in order to perform duties for a religious organization.

The R-1 nonimmigrant is temporarily allowed to work in the US at least part-time (an average of at least 20 hours per week) as a minister or in a religious occupation or vocation. Additionally, the worker must be employed by a nonprofit religious organization located in the US that is authorized by a group tax exemption holder to use its group tax exemption and is affiliated with a religious denomination in the US. Religious workers applying for an R visa must also provide evidence that they have been a member of a religious denomination with a bona fide non-profit religious organization in the United States for at least two years immediately before starting the application process.

The initial R visa allows the individual to enter the United States for up to 30 months, but they may apply for an extension that could grant them another 30 months for a maximum of 5 years total stay in the US. During this period of time, the visa holder is allowed to travel freely within and outside of the US. After two years, the visa holder can also apply for permanent residence, otherwise known as a green card.

The R 1 visa has some limitations. First, religious workers are only allowed to receive payment from the religious organization under which they applied for the R-1 visa. Additionally, their dependents are not authorized to work in the U.S. but they are allowed to accompany the individual who has been granted an R 1 visa.

Types of R Visas

The most common type of R visa is the R-1. However, there are actually two categories. It is important to note that all petitioning religious organizations must be a recognized 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation. Listed below are each type as well as who qualifies for them.

  1. R-1 Visas: This typically represents ministers who have been officially ordained and/or authorized to perform the duties of a minister. Additionally, it encompasses all other types of religious workers to include teachers, those who work in a liturgical capacity, counselors, missionaries, people who work in a religiously oriented healthcare facility, broadcasters, translators, etc. Though many qualify for an R-1 visa, many are also excluded from applying. Employees who do not qualify include janitors, fundraisers as well as any persons whose occupation focuses mainly on solicitation of funding. Additionally, they must show evidence of their affiliation to their religion abroad for at least the last two years.
  2. R-2 Visas: R-2 visas are reserved for family members of R-1 holders who will be joining them in the United States. Family members can include a spouse and/or children under the age of 21 who are not married. You cannot apply for an R-2 visa without the R-1 holder being approved first.

It is important to note that each R visa classification allows for a maximum stay of 60 months. They can be extended once for an additional 60 months. After a five-year period of continuous work in the U.S. has passed, the beneficiary will have to leave the U.S. for at least one year before they can become eligible for an R-1 visa again. Additionally, the petitioner must be able to provide evidence that they are eligible to file Form I-129 for the beneficiary.

What are the qualifications to be eligible?

For the purposes of immigration, a worker in a religious vocation has taken vows or made a formal lifelong commitment to a religious way of life. Additionally, the religious denomination must have a class of individuals who have dedicated their lives to religious practices and functions that are clearly distinguishable from the secular members of the religion. Examples include, but are not limited to

  • Nuns
  • Ministers
  • Monks
  • Religious brothers and sisters

The best way to find out if you, your spouse, or your family qualify for an R visa is to contact the Florida Immigration Law Counsel. But there are some general eligibility requirements that must be met in order for USCIS to approve a petition/application that relates to all who apply.

First, the individual must be a member of a religious denomination that has a real nonprofit religious organization in the US, and the organization and its affiliate, if applicable, must be tax-exempt. The religious worker must have been a member of that religious denomination for at least two years immediately preceding the time they submitted Form I-129.

Religious domination must have commonly established places of religious worship or religious congregations. The petitioner must be coming to work at least part-time and solely as a minister or to perform other duties usually performed by someone in that religious vocation or occupation. The religious worker must agree to abide by all relevant immigration laws and only work per the R1 visa approval.

In order to be considered a “minister of religion,” you must be authorized by your religious denomination and trained in accordance with the denomination’s standards to conduct religious worship, or to perform other rituals, ceremonies or duties usually performed only by authorized members of that denomination. It does not include:

  • Lay preachers
  • Other secular members of the church (janitors maintenance workers)
  • Anyone not authorized to perform duties usually performed by authorized members of the clergy of that denomination

While working in the U.S. under an R immigrant visa, you may not perform any other work outside of your duties as minister. However, you may perform administrative duties that are incidental to your ministry work.

NonImmigrant Visas Issued table

Source: Travel State Gov

What is a Form I-797?

These are forms that USCIS uses to communicate information to applicants or their petitioners, or sometimes to convey an immigration benefit. In spite of how it sounds, Form I-797 is not a form that can be filled out. Rather, there are different types and functions including:

  • I-797, Notice of Action: There are varying types that can be sent conveying different types of information, such as when an application or petition has been approved
  • I-797D: This informs you that your petition has been approved and explains any benefits you will receive, such as a green card (permanent residency) or employment authorization card (work permit)
  • I-797F, Transportation Letter: These are typically sent to lawful permanent residents physically present outside of the U.S. that allows them to travel back to the U.S. even if their green card was lost, stolen, or mutilated.

If you receive any of these types of forms it’s important to keep them in a safe place. You may need to present these to officials, and you should definitely notify us at the Florida Immigration Law Counsel whenever you receive any communications regarding your status.

Evidence of Eligibility for an R Visa

If a religious organization within the United States would like to petition for an R-1 temporary nonimmigrant employee to work in the U.S. they must prove that they are eligible. Each petitioner will be tasked with submitting proof they are indeed a 501 (c)(3) organization. This proof can come in the form of a valid and current determination letter from the IRS. This letter will show that the petitioner’s religious organization is tax-exempt and eligible. Furthermore, the religious worker is required to be compensated for their work, such as monetary compensation or room and board.

Petitioning organizations must also show verifiable proof that they have compensated others in the past who served in a similar capacity. If the worker is coming in a missionary capacity, the organization is tasked with proving the legitimacy of their missionary program. If there is no monetary compensation involved, bank records, evidence of donations, etc. must be provided. Additionally, the beneficiary must prove that they have been a part of their religion for more than two years. Proving these eligibility requirements can sometimes be cumbersome and difficult, if you are in need of assistance, contact the immigration attorneys at Florida Immigration Law Counsel today.

How to Apply for an R Visa

Applying for an R-1 visa will require the petitioner (U.S. employer) to file Form I-129. This is a petition for nonimmigrant workers seeking to temporarily enter the United States as a religious worker, minister, or some other type of religious vocation. The R-1 visa will not be issued abroad without the approval of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). In addition to the form, each petitioner must provide proof of eligibility. If any of the requirements to obtain an R visa are at odds with religious beliefs and infringe upon their rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the petitioning organization can apply for exemptions under specific circumstances. USCIS provided exemptions are offered on a case by case scenario. It is important to provide all required supporting documents and a duplicate Form I-129. If not, you will run the risk of delaying the issuance of the R-1 visa.

Connecting With an Immigration Attorney

As you can see, applying for R visas can be somewhat complex. Forgetting documentation, not offering the correct information and/or not following the instructions in any way can result in an untimely delay and/or denial of the application. It is important for the petitioner and the beneficiary to connect with an experienced and reputable attorney who has already navigated the complexities of applying for R visas. An immigration attorney can be helpful with paperwork, obtaining proof of status, preparing the petitioner for potential inspections and a bevy of other instances relating to R visas. If you would like to learn more about the process of obtaining an R-1 or R-2 visa and/or the fee schedule give our R visa attorneys at Florida Immigration Law Counsel a call for your initial consultation today.

How long does it take to get an R-1 visa?

The employer must file a Form I-129: Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker to begin the application process for an R-1 visa petition, regardless of whether or not the worker has already entered the US. If the individual is already in the US with another type of nonimmigrant visa, however, then they can apply for a change of status. In total, it could take between 8-9 months to receive approval from USCIS. However, with premium processing, which comes with hefty fees, you can receive a response to your visa application within two weeks. It’s best to speak with an attorney at Florida Immigration Law Counsel to find out if premium processing is right for you.

What benefits can one receive with an R-2 visa?

The R-2 visa is a U.S. non-immigrant visa that may be issued to the spouse and unmarried children of religious workers who are working in the US under an R visa for which they are being sponsored. R-2 visa holders are allowed to become full-time or part-time students but according to immigration law, they may not work under their R visa. Instead, they must contact an immigration attorney to learn how to become eligible for employment in the United States in accordance with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Only R-1 visas grant an individual the right to employment in the US, and only for the individual whose duties primarily relate to a traditional religious function.

What is a site visit?

An interview is required before being approved to come to the United States to work due to many cases of fraud. USCIS confirms and approves R-1 visas only for legitimate places of worship with religious services, so they will need to see documents pertaining to the organization, such as financial documents.

Choose Florida Immigration Law Counsel

Whether you are inside or outside the United States, Florida Immigration Law Counsel can assist you with your visa application if you work in a religious occupation and want to work in the U.S. The Florida Immigration Law Counsel has decades of experience helping both corporate and individual clients with their visa applications and petition to work in the US as religious workers.

It is important for petitioners and religious workers to choose the right law firm to handle their applications. The attorneys at Florida Immigration Law Counsel provide each client with legal guidance throughout the entire process and keep them informed of their status.


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Attorney Saman Movassaghi, Esq.

Caring and compassionate, Saman Movassaghi Gonzalez is a Florida immigration attorney dedicated to producing the results her clients need. She has over 17 years of experience helping both corporate and individual clients with an emphasis in employment/investment cases and family adjustment cases.

As the Managing Attorney at Florida Immigration Law Counsel, Saman Movassaghi Gonzalez and her team are capable of representing and helping individuals looking to attain a Family VisaWork Visa, and Citizenship/Naturalization. Her experience successfully representing clients in front of the Department of Justice for cases involving Deportation/Removal Proceedings will lead to success in your case.

Her experience and expertise in immigration litigation has led to multiple Avvo awards and other accolades, including the Clients’ Choice for 2017 Immigration Attorney. Her clients also consistently post positive reviews on her Facebook page. Her experience has also allowed her to teach a new generation of lawyers as an adjunct professor of law at Nova Southeastern University, and she also regularly gives speeches on immigration matters.

Counselor Gonzalez is also experienced in helping corporate clients through the process of filing for Employment Visas, Labor Certifications, and Business and Investment Visas with the Department of Labor. She takes on the entire case from start to finish, simplifying the process for her clients and allowing them to focus on their business.

Fluent in English, Spanish, and Farsi – Saman Movassaghi Gonzalez is dedicated to making her clients feel comfortable and assured in making her their go-to immigration attorney in Florida. Her goal is to ensure that those who want to live the American dream have a professional fighting for them and making the process as painless as possible.

Saman’s passion for immigration law stems from her personal life as the daughter of immigrants. Her parents were recipients of the student F1 visa in 1971. Her father came into this country with the goal to improve his life and the life of his children. He earned a PhD in Civil Engineering and Business, instilling in his daughter a strong work ethic that she carries to this day. Saman saw firsthand what it means to be an immigrant and achieve the American Dream.

Saman Movassaghi Gonzalez can personally understand the struggle of immigrants and the children of immigrants navigating through the bureaucratic process of immigration law. Because of this, she dedicates herself fully and provides her personal attention to every case. She prides herself on developing a strong relationship with each and every client, and she is not afraid of pushing the envelope and looking for answers where other attorneys have failed.

Saman Movassaghi makes it her goal to provide you with only the best representation for immigration matters because she believes it’s time for you to live the American dream!