The Words of the Stephens Family

New Religious Worker Regulations

Jim Stephens
February 12, 2009

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Here is some important information about non-Americans being able to come here on R-1 "Religious Worker" visas. The regulations and proofs required by the government have gotten much tighter for being able to stay and work for the church in America. It's important for many of you to be aware of this information.

God bless,

New Religious Worker Regulations

As of November 26, 2008 the US Immigration Service (USCIS) issued new regulations for all applications for Religious Worker visas, both immigrant and non-immigrant. In particular the new regulations for non-immigrant religious visas (R-1) have been significantly changed. This memo deals with the changes in the non-immigrant category

Petitioning Requirement

Under the previous regulations it was possible to apply for an R-1 visa directly at a US Embassy. The consular officer would make a decision based solely on the documents presented at the interview. Once the visa was issued the applicant could then enter the US and begin religious work. The whole process took on average 1~4 weeks depending on the particular US Embassy.

Under the new regulations it is no longer possible to apply directly at a US Embassy. A petition must now be submitted to the USCIS. If the petition is approved the church worker will then be able to apply at the US Embassy for an R-1 visa. The visa will be issued initially for a period of 30 months. They can receive an extension of another 30 months for a total of 5 years.

On site Inspections

As part of the review process the USCIS will visit the petitioning church to verify the facts presented in the petition.

Increased Processing Time

Although we do not know how long this process will take we already have experienced on site inspections through our R visa extension applications and the entire process can take over 6 months. With the increased workload that this will cause the USCIS we could see wait times much longer.

Employer Reporting Obligation

Another new requirement for this category is that if any R visa holder stops working for the church then the church needs to report this to the USCIS within 14 days. The USCIS will provide a reporting system.

Supporting Documentation

Each petition will have to provide supporting documentation in several areas

Church Workers Qualifications

Any church worker must have been a member of the church for at least two years immediately preceding the application.

Nature of the work to be done by the Church Worker

The type of work that the church worker performs must relate to a traditional religious function. That is to say things like witnessing, teaching etc. Specifically not included are jobs such as maintenance and office work or fundraising. The sponsoring church will have to show its current activities and how the new church worker will fit into the current church structure.

Work must be compensated

The church must state how it intends to compensate the church worker. The compensation can be either salaried or non-salaried. Non-salaried compensation can be in the form of stipends, room and board etc., The sponsoring church center must show that it is capable of providing the compensation offered. The proof must be in the form of verifiable evidence.


These new petitioning requirements will require church centers to plan well in advance for any church workers they wish to invite to the US. They must also be prepared to document their need for the church worker as well as their ability to support them. 

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