Law Offices of Chris M. Ingram

R1 Visa Religious Workers – Support Staff


Professional Religious Workers Must Have At Least a BA to Qualify for an R1Visa

Many churches need the support of professional religious workers and they qualify to apply for R-1 visas also.  US Immigration (USCIS) does not go into great detail as to what actually defines a religious worker except to say that they must have a BA degree or higher and must be coming to work in a religious vocation or occupation.  A professional religious worker could include a church auditor, church secretary, church Sunday School teacher, choir director, administrator for overseas missions, worship leader, missionaries,  church counselor and so forth.

R-1 visas are also available to religious workers who do not have a BA degree but who are invited to serve the church in some religious or spiritual capacity. Not everyone wishing to work in a church environment can qualfy for the R1 visa. For example, lay individuals performing cleaning, maintenance work or secretarial work do not qualify for the R-1 visa because these tasks are not generally considered as being a uniquely religious occupation. However, if this work is being performed by someone taking religious vows, he or she may qualify for the R1 visa. USCIS has indicated that this would specifically pertain to religious orders for nuns and monks.

Requirements of the Church

The 1st Amendment of the US Constitution provides “Congress shall make no law representing an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”  This means that US Immigration has to be very careful as to what rules and regulations they can put in place that could be construde in any way as interferring with the right of church members to bring in from outside the US their own ministers of religion, to lead their flock, if you will.

R1 Visas for Pastors, Religious Professionals and Other religious Workers
R1 Visas for Pastors, Religious Professionals and Other Religious Workers

Congress has therefore been very careful to frame Immigration laws to facilitate the movement of religious workers by setting out clear definitions as to the requirements for entry.

The church must actually be a religious denomination defined as “a religious group or community of believers having some form of ecclesiastical government, a creed or statement of faith, some form of worship, a formal or informal code of doctrine and discipline, religious services and ceremonies, established places of religious worship, and religious congregations, or comparable indicia of a bona fide religious denomination”. As you can see the definition is so broad so as to include, not exclude, almost every conceivable collective body of people gathering together under a common doctrine. The definition does not frame the word worship as relating to any devine subject. For Immigration purposes the Church should be a bona fide non-profit organization as certified by the Inland Revenue Service under section 501(c)(3) of the IR Code of 1986. Non-profit churches are tax exempt. The alien will need to establish that they have been a member of the denomination for at least two years.

Ministers and Pastors from overseas can make a tremendous cultural difference to US communities

 Over recent years there has been a lot of aliens who have not honored the spirit (pardon the pun) of the R1 Religious Worker visa. Remember R1 workers must be coming to the US to solely serve their congregation. There have been many publicised stories where “ministers” have been found in the US having full-time jobs outside of the church and so forth. There was even one story where the minister was working eighty hours per week as a cab driver. As a result of these abuses USCIS has really cracked down on their vetting procedures. The degree of documentation now required to satisfy USCIS to grant this visa has become borderline burdensome.

If your church is interested in supporting a religious worker to join your church, then please let us know so we can ensure the case is expertly prepared. When we take on any of these types of cases we also take a close look at the family members coming too. It is very important indeed to consider the ages of all the children to make sure that children coming up to 18 or even 21 years have an immigration strategy in place that will not leave them stranded or frustrated. Minors of R1 workers cannot obtain work permits unless they qualify for these independently and this is not easy to do. So we take a very wholistic approach to these cases to make sure everyone thrives in their new life in the US.  

Religious Workers
R1 Religious Workers – Ordained Pastors
R1 Religious Workers – Support Staff

Success Stories
Visa Approvals


Immigration Law Offices of Chris M. Ingram

Immigration Law Offices of Chris M. Ingram

US Immigration Law Offices of Chris M. Ingram
Chris M. Ingram LL.M., ESQ – Immigration Attorney
Admitted in New York.
Practice Specializing in US Immigration Law
520 Broadway, Suite 350,
Santa Monica,
California 90401
Tel: 310 496 4292


Everyday the Law Offices of Chris M. Ingram provides a comprehensive range of US Immigration expertise. We also provide a free consultation for our prospective clients.

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