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Chapter 12 - Religious Workers
by Mark A. Ivener

The R nonimmigrant visa category is available to aliens who have been member of a religious denomination for a least two years, and are coming to the United States temporarily to work for its bona fide, non-profit religious organization in U.S.

  2. A foreign national, who has been a member of a religious denomination for at least two years immediately preceding application to the U.S., who is coming temporarily to work for a bona fide, non-profit religious organization in the U.S. in one of the following categories may qualify for an"R" nonimmigrant visa. The categories include:

    1. As a minister of the denomination;
    2. As a professional capacity in a religious vocation for the organization. Positions in this category require that the individual have a baccalaureate degree or equivalent.
    3. In a religious vocation or occupation for the organization of one of its affiliates. Examples of positions in this category include those who take vows, such as nuns and monks, and may include others such as religious instructors, liturgical workers, counselors, cantors, workers in religious hospitals, missionaries, religious translators and broadcasters. The category, however, does not include such positions as janitors, maintenance workers, and clerks.

  4. R visa applicants may apply for the visa directly to a U.S. Consular Officer, or the U.S. employer may file a petition with the INS Regional Service Center that has jurisdiction over the area where the alien will be employed. In either case, the following supporting documentation should be submitted:

    1. A letter from authorized official of the religious organization establishing that the proposed job position and the alien qualify as above;
    2. A letter or letters from authorized officials of the religious denomination or organization attesting to the alien's membership in the denomination, explaining in detail the person's religious work and all employment for the past two years, and the nature of the proposed employment; and
    3. A copy of the tax-exempt certificate showing the religious organization, and any affiliate which will employ the person, is a bona fide, non-profit organization in the U.S. and is exempt from taxation in accordance with Section 501 (c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986.

  6. An R visa may initially be granted for a period of three years. The INS may grant subsequent extensions of stay in increments of up to two years, however, the total period of stay may not exceed five years. An R visa holder who reached for five year limit must reside outside of the United States for a period of one year before he/she may be readmitted in R status.

  8. The spouse and unmarried minor children of the R visa holder are also entitled to R visa status. They are subject to the same period of stay as the principal alien, and may not be employed in the United States on a R visa.

About The Author

Mark Ivener has been practicing law in Los Angeles for 30 years. He has lectured on U.S. immigration law for the World Trade Institute in New York, Houston, Chicago, and San Francisco. He has also lectured for the International Bar Association in Munich, Madrid, and New York. Mr. Ivener has participated in many immigration seminars for the Law Societies of British Columbia and Alberta and the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

He has authored the books, Handbook of Immigration Law, Volumes I and II [1980; 2nd edition, 1982; and 3rd edition, 1986; Online edition, 1999]; Doing Business in the U.S.A. Under Free Trade [1989; 2nd edition, 1990]; Get The Right Visa [1992; 2nd edition 1994]; A Complete Guide To Getting An American Visa (in Japanese) 1993; 2nd edition 1994; 3rd edition 1997]; and Have You Thought About Immigrating To The U.S.? (in Spanish) [1995]. He has also written many articles on immigration law which have appeared in the International Law Journal, the Canadian-American Bar Association Newsletter, Business and the Law and World Trade Trends.

Mr. Ivener is a founding member of IMMLAW, The National Consortium of Immigration Law Firms. Also, Mr. Ivener is listed in the Martindale-Hubbell Bar Register of Preeminent Lawyers.

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