New Religious Worker (R-1 Visa) Regulations

In an effort to combat alleged fraud, the USCIS has made significant new requirements for petitioning religious organizations and R-1 Visa beneficiaries. The primary changes are a requirement to file an R-1 petition with USCIS, the petitioning organization must allow USCIS to inspect the site where the prospective R-1 holder will work, the initial validity period will be decreased from 36 months to 30 months and the type of positions that can be sponsored have been limited.

A. Petitioning and Attestation Requirements

A nonimmigrant alien seeking R-1 status cannot self-petition, but must have an employer submit a petition (Form I-129) on his or her behalf. In the petition, the prospective employer must attest to a number of factors; including, but not limited to: (i) That the prospective employer is a bona fide non-profit religious organization or a religious organization which is affiliated with the religious denomination and is exempt from taxation; (ii) the number of members of the prospective employer’s organization, the number of aliens holding religious worker status (both special immigrant and nonimmigrant) and the number of petitions filed by the employer for such status within the preceding five years; (iii) the complete package of salaried or non-salaried compensation being offered and a detailed description of the alien’s proposed daily duties; and (iv) that an alien seeking special immigrant religious worker status will be employed at least 35 hours per week and an alien seeking nonimmigrant religious worker status will be employed for at least 20 hours per week.

B. IRS Determination Letter

The petitioning employer must file a determination letter from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) of the tax-exempt status of the petitioning religious organization under Internal Revenue Code (IRC) 501(c)(3), 26 U.S.C. 501(c)(3).

C. USCIS On-Site Inspections

USCIS may verify supporting evidence provided by a petitioner through any appropriate means, including an on-site inspection of the petitioning organization which may include a tour of the organization’s facilities, an interview with organization officials, review of selected organization records relating to the organization’s compliance with immigration laws and regulations, and interviews with any other individuals or review of any other records that USCIS considers pertinent to the integrity of the organization.

D. Period of Initial Admission and Extension of Status for R-1 Workers

Religious workers may obtain an initial period of admission of up to 30 months and then may obtain one extension of religious worker status for up to 30 months, for a total of no more than 60 months.

E. Compensation Requirements

With limited exceptions, the beneficiary of an initial petition for R-1 nonimmigrant status must be compensated either by salaried or non- salaried compensation, and the petitioner must provide verifiable evidence of such compensation. If there is to be no compensation, the petitioner must provide verifiable evidence that such non-compensated religious workers will be participating in an established, traditionally non-compensated, missionary program within the denomination, which is part of a broader international program of missionary work sponsored by the denomination. The petitioner must also provide verifiable evidence of how the aliens will be supported while participating in that program. Petitioners must submit verifiable evidence of past compensation or support for nonimmigrants with any extension of status request for such nonimmigrants. Special immigrant petitioners must submit verifiable evidence of: (1) How the petitioner intends to compensate the alien and (2) past compensation or support to demonstrate the required previous two years of religious work.

F. Definition of “Religious Occupation”

Religious organizations must submit evidence identifying religious occupations that are specific to that denomination. Additionally, the petitioning organization must submit evidence demonstrating that an alien’s proposed duties meet the religious occupation’s requirements.

The federal register entry can be found here and the USCIS announcement can be found here.  On December 4, 2008, USCIS published a new I-129 Form which includes the new R-1 attestation.

Posted on December 9, 2008 at 12:15 pm by Immigration Lawyer Peter Messersmith · Permalink
In: R-1 Visa · Tagged with: 

13 Responses

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  1. Written by Kirsty
    on December 30, 2008 at 8:16 am


    I was wondering how these new regulations apply to existing R1 visa holders. I got my R1 visa at the end of 2007, and it is valid until 2010. I am currently out of the US, but hope to return soon working with the organization my R1 is registered with. Does that mean they have to apply with the USCIS on my behalf, or does that only apply to new R1 visa applicants?


  2. Written by LIJU AUGUSTINE
    on January 20, 2009 at 5:11 pm

    I want to know how these new regulations apply to my case.I got my R1 visa on September 2008 and it is valid until September 2009.I am currently working at USA but I have the desire and need to extend my visa for five years. Does that mean that the people concerned have to apply with the USCIS on my behalf or does that only apply to new R1 visa application
    Thank you

  3. Written by Robert
    on January 26, 2009 at 5:05 pm


    I am wondering about compensation for a nonimmigrant, how to prove past compensation of the position if it is not for an extension? Since the alien has not worked for 2 years prior as a non-immigrant, but been a partner with the ministry for past 2 years, how does one prove compensation for past 2 years? Is this needed?

  4. Written by Ming Zhang
    on March 4, 2009 at 11:37 am

    Hi, I am a deacon of a Chinese Christian Church. We are in the process of applying R-1 visa for our fourth pastor. My question is what are the rules for providing financial support for the new pastor while he is waiting for the USICS decision. We know that he cannot start work and receive compensation before approval of R-1 Visa. Therefor we ask him to stay where he is (a city 2000 miles away) and not give him any work to do. However, can we provide financial support for him and his family using Church fund (tax exempted)? Please advise!


  5. Written by surinder kaur
    on March 6, 2009 at 3:55 pm

    Hi,I am Surinder Kaur I just want to know about R1 visa’s new information or about new rule

  6. Written by Xian Xi
    on March 30, 2009 at 5:17 pm

    How many religous workers can be included in one R1 Visa Petition

  7. Written by Marie
    on August 6, 2009 at 9:15 pm

    How do you request for a site inspector to come prior to filing the forms I907/I 129. Please advise.

  8. Written by ravinder singh
    on August 13, 2009 at 7:47 pm

    is there any new rule for applying green card by r1 visas holder ? and if yes then how much time he have to wait for this green card approval

  9. Written by Le
    on September 5, 2009 at 4:28 pm

    I’m a Canadian citizen. How can I get R1 to work in USA? I got R1 from Nov 20, 2008 to Nov 20, 2011 but I didn’t work in that church anymore. Can I change may R1 visa or I have to apply again?

  10. Written by vanessa
    on March 5, 2010 at 2:14 pm

    hey guys my name is vanessa I am a canadian citizen and trying to get any information on how you apply for a relgious visa. i know there is the r 1 form to fill out but I need some help walking through some of the documentations that i need?
    if you have any personal experience from your r1 visa please please shoot me a message back !

  11. Written by Bro.Peter Ezeh
    on September 27, 2010 at 11:07 am

    Hi, I was aproved by department of home land security on December 2009 and was finally given R-1 visa on january 2010. Now, I want to change from my original denomination ( the people that petitioned for me ) to another one in other to continue my mission here. So what exectly do I need to do? Thanks!

  12. Written by V.krupashekhar
    on October 24, 2010 at 11:33 am


  13. Written by Daniel Tipantiza
    on November 4, 2012 at 7:47 pm

    We are a smalll church in Middletown, PA, and are applying for an immigrant visa for a candidate who is working currently with our youth, he is not being paid as we can’t afford at this time to pay him. We have filed I-360 on his behalf a month ago and they sent us a letter requesting for more evidence. We have never hired before a person as a minister so we have no way to prove that we have hired any other person. One of the members of our church is providing for him, house, food, transportation and all he needs while he is in the US and is able to provided for him until such time that the church can provided for him a compensation. My quesiton is? what documents do we send USCIS if we have nothing to provided regarding salary as he does not receive compensation, we dont provide lodging or anything as one of our members has taken upon himself to do this?
    I would really appreciate an answer as we have to submit this evidence by Jan 18th 2013, thanks

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