R-1 religious worker nonimmigrant status is available to three categories of religious workers:
- ministers of religion (members of the clergy);
- persons working in a professional capacity, either in a religious vocation or occupation (must have a baccalaureate degree or foreign equivalent – not equivalent experience or a combination of education and experience); and
- other religious workers working in a religious occupation or in a religious vocation ("an activity which relates to a traditional religious function," including, but not limited to, "liturgical workers, religious instructors, religious counselors, cantors, catechists, workers in religious hospitals or religious health care facilities, missionaries, religious translators, or religious broadcasters.")
Each category requires that the individual applicant for the two years immediately preceding the date of application for admission:
- have been a member of a religious denomination having a bona fide nonprofit, religious organization in the United States; and
- seek to enter the United States for a period not to exceed five years.
No petition is required for the R-1 visa. Application is made either directly to the U.S. consulate abroad or as a change of status to the INS in the United States. An R nonimmigrant may be admitted for an initial period of up to three years, which may be extended for two years for a total of five consecutive years. No extensions may be granted beyond the five-year period.
An alien who has spent five consecutive years in the United States as an R nonimmigrant, may not be readmitted in the R visa classification unless the alien has resided and been physically present outside the United States for the immediate prior year. As with the limitation on stay for H and L nonimmigrants, time spent in the United States will not interrupt the one-year period of residence abroad, but will not be counted toward fulfillment of that requirement.
The spouse and unmarried minor children of an R-1 nonimmigrant are entitled to R-2 classification, provided that the principal alien will be employed and residing primarily in the United States. R-2 nonimmigrants are not authorized to accept employment in the United States without independent eligibility.