Is the issuance of R-1 visas suspended at present?
No. Although in 2020 the Trump administration suspended the issuance of certain types of visas, the R-1 visa was not affected.
How long does it take to get an R-1 visa?
It will take some time to complete Form I-129 and gather supporting documentation. After your employer submits your Form I-129 application package, you will need to wait for the USCIS to respond.
This could take up to six months if your employer has never petitioned for an R-1 visa before, during which time your employer should expect a personal visit from USCIS representatives. Otherwise, the USCIS response should be considerably faster. However long it takes, you will need to wait another two or three months before your visa is issued.
If this is not your employer’s first time to petition for an R-1 visa, premium processing is available for an extra fee of $1,225. With premium processing, you will either receive a response to your visa petition (yes or no) within two weeks or the extra fee will be refunded.
What, exactly, constitutes a “religion” for the purposes of obtaining an R-1 visa?
To obtain an R-1 visa, you need to be an employee of an employer that is affiliated with a religion. What, precisely, then, is a “religion” for the purposes of obtaining an R-1 visa? According to the USCIS, religion is a community that:
- Is governed by the rules of an ecclesiastic government;
- Shares a common faith;
- Shares a common doctrine;
- Shares a common discipline;
- Shares a place or places of worship (individual congregations may be widely separated yet share a common religion with each other);
- Perform similar ceremonies and rituals (baptism, for example);
- Worship in a similar manner; and
- Sponsor organizations that are religious in nature.
Whether a given organization qualifies as a “religion” is ultimately a judgment call, in which the foregoing factors are weighed against each other.
Can I leave and re-enter the United States on an R-1 visa?
The R-1 visa is a multiple re-entry visa, meaning that you may leave and return to the United States more than once during the period of validity of your visa. The exact number of times depends on your country of citizenship. As long as you have at least one re-entry left, there is no need for you to seek advance parole before leaving the US.
Nevertheless, you need to be careful – the period of validity of your visa is not the same as your authorized period of stay, and you can only re-enter the United States while your visa is valid. It is possible to be in legal status in the US, and yet find yourself unable to re-enter if you leave the United States and seek to re-enter after your visa expires. In this case, it is better to stay in the United States.
Does time spent outside the United States while in R-1 status count against my overall 60-month limit?
Yes, it does, and there is no way to recapture the lost time. Once your 60 months expires, you will no longer be able to extend your R visa. You will have to leave the United States for at least one full year before you can seek another R visa.
Which type of religious employee is eligible for an R-1 visa?
Two types of religious employees may qualify for an R-1 visa — members of the clergy, and “other religious workers” such as”
- Choir directors,
- Religious teachers,
- Religious translators,
- Liturgical workers,
- Religious instructors,
- Workers in a religious hospital,
- Religious broadcasters, or
- Other religious vocations or occupations that involve missionary work or the performance of a traditional religious function.
The applicant bears the burden of proving that their position qualifies as a religious vocation or occupation. It is probably easier to illuminate this concept, however, by providing examples of what does not qualify as a religious occupation than by providing examples of who does qualify. Some examples of occupations that do not qualify as religious occupations include:
- Volunteers in any capacity, even clergy;
- Maintenance workers;
- Students who come to the US solely for religious study or training for religious work;
- Building superintendents; and
A visa applicant does not need to be currently employed in a religious occupation, as long as they have been a member of the relevant religious denomination for at least two years immediately preceding the visa application.