Battan Alpert Hutchings LLP | Immigration And Nationality Law
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Boulder Immigration Lawyer Representing Religious Workers

The Colorado immigration attorneys at Battan Alpert Hutchings LLP are committed to helping religious workers from around the world come to the U.S. The following is intended to provide a general overview of religious worker immigration issues. To discuss your unique situation, contact a Boulder immigration lawyer who is dedicated to helping you reach your goals – a lawyer like those at Battan Alpert Hutchings LLP.

Basic Information

An R-1 visa is for religious workers who intend to work for a religious organization in the U.S. which has been granted IRS 501(c)(3) status. The worker must have been a member of the religion for at least two years prior to filing the R-1 petition. The worker may spend a maximum of five years in this status. At the end of the five years, the worker must have filed for permanent residence, found another immigration status or lived abroad for one year (with only brief visits to the U.S. allowed) before they can again apply for another R-1 visa.

In 2008, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services made major changes to the religious worker program. The process has become substantially more complicated and time-consuming. You should consult with an immigration lawyer regarding these important changes.

Permissible Categories Of Religious Work

There are three basic categories of workers who are eligible for R-1 status:

  1. Ministers: This is a person who is authorized to conduct religious worship services and to perform other duties usually performed by authorized members of the clergy of that religion. (U.S. Immigration Chapter 22.3)
  2. Professional workers: A person working in a professional capacity in a religious vocation or occupation. This person must have a baccalaureate degree or a foreign equivalent in a field related to their religious occupation.
  3. A person working in a religious occupation or a religious vocation.


The religious organization must file a petition with the USCIS on behalf of the religious worker. The petition will include substantial supporting documentation showing that the organization and the worker qualify for the R-1 designation.

Derivative Status

Spouses and minor children may apply for R-2 status or visas. An R-2 status or visa will allow the dependent to remain in the U.S. as long as the principal visa holder is in valid R-1 status, and as long as the dependent does not violate his or her status.

Permanent Residence In The U.S.

The religious organization may file an immigrant petition on behalf of workers who qualify for R-1 status as long as the worker has worked as a religious worker for two years prior to filing the petition. (R-1 applicants must only show two years of membership in the organization.) The worker must provide evidence that he or she has received salaried and/or nonsalaried compensation for the religious work for at least two years. After the USCIS approves the immigrant petition, the worker and any dependents may apply for permanent residence in the U.S. as long as they qualify for admission to the U.S. as permanent residents. Instead of applying for permanent residence in the U.S. the worker and/or family members may wish to apply for immigrant visas.

Choosing to apply for permanent residence or to apply for immigrant visas is a complicated decision which depends upon many factors. These decisions should be reviewed carefully with a qualified immigration attorney.
This website is for general guidance only. This website does not explain everything about immigration law, which is a vast and ever-changing area of law. Furthermore, each individual’s situation differs. Thus, all individuals should consult with an immigration lawyer prior to filing any petition or application.