The Immigration and Nationality Act provides a nonimmigrant visa category "R" for aliens proceeding to the United States to work in a religious capacity.

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 such as administering the sacraments, or their equivalent. The term does not apply to lay preachers. 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.

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.

The applicant must be a member of a religious denomination having a bona fide nonprofit religious organization in the U.S.;The religious denomination and its affiliate, if applicable, are exempt from taxation, or the religious denomination qualifies for tax- exempt status;The applicant has been a member of the denomination for two years immediately preceding admission;The applicant is entering the United States solely to carry on the vocation of a minister of that denomination, or, at the request of the organization, the applicant is entering the United States to work in a religious vocation or occupation for the denomination or for an organization affiliated with the denomination, whether in a professional capacity or not; andThe applicant has resided and been physically present outside the United States for the immediate prior year if he or she has previously spent five years in this classification.

Religious workers should generally apply at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate with jurisdiction over their place of permanent residence. Although visa applicants may apply at any U.S. consular office abroad, it may be more difficult to qualify for the visa outside the country of permanent residence. As part of the visa application process, an interview at the embassy consular section is required for visa applicants from age 14 through 79. Persons age 13 and younger, and age 80 and older, generally do not require an interview, unless requested by embassy or consulate. The waiting time for an interview appointment for applicants can vary, so early visa application is strongly encouraged. Visa wait times for interview appointments and visa processing time information for each U.S. Embassy or Consulate worldwide is available on our website at Visa Wait Times, and on most embassy websites. During the visa application process, usually at the interview, an ink-free, digital fingerprint scan will be quickly taken. Some visa applications require further administrative processing, which takes additional time after the visa applicant's interview by a Consular Officer. There is no requirement that applicants for "R" visas have a residence abroad that they have no intention of abandoning, but they must intend to depart the United States at the end of their lawful status.

For current fees for Department of State government services select Fees.

  • An application, Nonimmigrant Visa Application, Form DS -156, completed and signed. The DS-156 must be the March 2006 date, electronic "e-form application." Select Nonimmigrant Visa Application Form DS-156 to access the electronic version of the DS-156.
  • A passport valid for travel to the United States and with a validity date at least six months beyond the applicant's intended period of stay in the United States (unless country-specific agreements provide exemptions). If more than one person is included in the passport, each person must complete an application.
  • One (1) 2x2 photograph. See the required photo format explained in Nonimmigrant Photograph Requirements.
  • All male nonimmigrant visa applicants between the ages of 16 and 45, regardless of nationality and regardless of where they apply, must complete and submit a form DS-157 in addition to the Nonimmigrant Visa Application (DS-156).
  • As part of the visa application process, an interview at the embassy consular section is required for almost all visa applicants. The waiting time for an interview appointment for applicants can vary, so early visa application is strongly encouraged. During the visa interview, an ink-free, digital fingerprint scan will be quickly taken, as well as a digital photo. Some applicants will need additional screening, and will be notified when they apply.

The applicant must be prepared to present to the consular officer any or all of the following documentation to verify that the applicant and the religious organization qualify for the R status:(1) Proof of tax-exempt status or eligibility for tax-exempt status;and(2) A letter from an authorized official of the specific unit of the employing organization certifying:That if the applicant''s religious membership was maintained, in whole or in part, outside the United States, the foreign and United States religious organizations belong to the same religious denomination;That, immediately prior to the application for the R visa, the alien has been a member of the religious denomination for the required two- year period;That, (as appropriate):If the applicant is a minister, he or she is authorized to conduct religious worship for that denomination. The duties should be described in detail; orIf the applicant is a religious professional, he or she has at least a baccalaureate degree or equivalent, and that such a degree is required for entry into the religious profession; orIf the applicant is to work in a nonprofessional vocation or occupation, he or she is qualified if the type of work to be done relates to a traditional religious function;The arrangements for remuneration, including the amount and source of salary, other types of compensation such as food and housing, and any other benefits to which a monetary value may be affixed, and a statement whether such remuneration shall be in exchange for services rendered;The name and location of the specific organizational unit of the religious denomination or affiliate for which the applicant will be providing services; andIf the alien is to work for an organization which is affiliated with a religious denomination, a description of the nature of the relationship between the two organizations:evidence of the religious organization''s assets and methods of operation;andthe organization''s papers of incorporation under applicable state law. U.S.

A visa allows a foreign citizen coming from abroad, to travel to the United States port-of entry and request permission to enter the U.S. Applicants should be aware that a visa does not guarantee entry into the United States. The Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials have authority to permit or deny admission to the United States. If you are allowed to enter the U.S., the CBP official will determine the length of your visit on the Arrival-Departure Record (Form I-94). Since Form I-94 documents your authorized stay in the U.S., it’s very important to keep in your passport. Upon arrival (at an international airport, seaport or land border crossing), you will be enrolled in the US-VISIT entry-exit program. In addition, some travelers will also need to register their entry into and their departure from the U.S. with the Special Registration program. The Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection internet site offers additional information on Admissions/Entry requirements.

Before a petition may be filed with the USCIS, the following criteria must be met:

  • You should carefully consider the dates of your authorized stay and make sure you are following the procedures under U.S. immigration laws. It is important that you depart the U.S. on or before the last day you are authorized to be in the U.S. on any given trip, based on the specified end date on your Arrival-Departure Record, Form I-94. Failure to depart the U.S. will cause you to be out-of-status.
  • Staying beyond the period of time authorized by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and being out-of-status in the U.S. is a violation of U.S. immigration laws, and may cause you to be ineligible for a visa in the future for return travel to the United States. Select Classes of Aliens Ineligible to Receive Visas to learn more
  • Staying unlawfully in the United States beyond the date Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials have authorized--even by one day--results in your visa being automatically voided, in accordance with INA 222(g). Under this provision of immigration law, if you overstay on your nonimmigrant authorized stay in the U.S., your visa will be automatically voided. In this situation, you are required to reapply for a new nonimmigrant visa, generally in your country of nationality.
  • For nonimmigrants in the U.S. who have an Arrival-Departure Record, Form I-94 with the CBP admitting officer endorsement of Duration of Status or D/S, but who are no longer performing the same function in the U.S. that they were originally admitted to perform (e.g. you are no longer working for the same employer or you are no longer attending the same school), a DHS or an immigration judge makes a finding of status violation, resulting in the termination of the period of authorized stay.
  • No assurances regarding the issuance of visas can be given in advance. Therefore final travel plans or the purchase of nonrefundable tickets should not be made until a visa has been issued.
  • Unless previously canceled, a visa is valid until its expiration date. Therefore, if the traveler has a valid U.S. visa in an expired passport, do not remove the visa page from the expired passport. You may use it along with a new valid passport for travel and admission to the United States.

A nonimmigrant religious worker's spouse and unmarried children under 21 years of age may be granted derivative status. They may study but may not accept employment in the United States.Time LimitsHolders of R visas may remain in the U.S. for up to five years to pursue their calling.

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