R Visas Religious Ministers and Workers


A citizen of a foreign country, who wishes to enter the United States, generally must first obtain a visa, either a nonimmigrant visa for temporary stay, or an immigrant visa for permanent residence. The type of visa you must have is defined by immigration law, and relates to the purpose of your travel.


The Immigration and Nationality Act provides two categories of religious workers. Section 101(a)(27)(C) provides immigrant status, while section 101(a)(15)(R) provides non-immigrant status for religious workers. Both categories include the spouse and minor unmarried children of the religious worker. The spouse and children of a non-immigrant religious worker are entitled to derivative non-immigrant visas. Dependents may study but not accept employment in the United States.


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.


Criteria for "R" classification are:

  1. The applicant is a member of a religious denomination having a bona fide non-profit religious organization in the United Sates;
  2. The religious denomination and its affiliate, if applicable, are exempt from taxation, or the religious denomination qualifies for tax-exempt status;
  3. The applicant has been a member of the organization for two years immediately preceding the admission;
  4. The applicant is entering the United States solely to carry on the vocation of a minister of that denomination; or
  5. 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 denominations, whether in professional capacity or not; and
  6. The applicant has resided and been physically present outside of the United States for the immediate prior year if he or she has previously spent five years in this classification.

There is no requirement that applicants for R visas have a residence abroad which they have no intention of abandoning, but they must intend to depart the United States at the end of their lawful status. Holders of the "R" visas may remain in the United States for up to five years to pursue their calling.


Spouses and/or children under the age of 21 who wish to accompany or join the principal R-1 visa holder in the United States for the duration of his/her stay require derivative R-2 visas.
Dependents may study but not accept employment in the United States.


Certain conditions and activities may make an applicant ineligible for a visa. In some instances, waivers may be available. Examples of these ineligibilities are:

  • Trafficking in Drugs
  • Having HIV/AIDS
  • Overstaying a previous visa
  • Practicing polygamy
  • Advocating the overthrow of the government
  • Submitting fraudulent documents

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