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U.S. Department of State 
95/08/01 Visas: Temporary Religious Workers 
Bureau of Consular Affairs 

 
 
                         TEMPORARY RELIGIOUS WORKERS 
 
 
The Immigration and Nationality Act provides a nonimmigrant visa 
category "R" for aliens proceeding to the United States to work in a 
religious capacity. 
 
DEFINITION OF RELIGIOUS WORKERS 
 
Religious workers include ministers of religion who are authorized by a 
recognized denomination to conduct religious worship and perform other 
duties usually performed by members of the clergy such as administering 
the sacraments, or their equivalent.  The term does not apply to lay 
preachers.  A religious vocation means a calling to religious life, 
evidenced by the demonstration of a lifelong commitment, such as taking 
vows.  Examples include nuns, monks, and religious brothers and sisters.  
A religious occupation means a habitual engagement in an activity which 
relates to a traditional religious function.  Examples include 
liturgical workers, religious instructors or cantors, catechists, 
workers in religious hospitals, missionaries, religious translators, or 
religious broadcasters.  It does not include janitors, maintenance 
workers, clerks, fund raisers, solicitors of donations, or similar 
occupations.  The activity of a lay-person who will be engaged in a 
religious occupation must relate to a traditional religious function:  
i.e., the activity must embody the tenets of the religion and have 
religious significance, relating primarily, if not exclusively, to 
matters of the spirit as they apply to the religion. 
 
BACKGROUND REQUIREMENTS 
 
--  The applicant must be a member of a religious denomination having a 
bona fide nonprofit religious organization in the U.S.; 
 
--  The religious denomination and its affiliate, if applicable, are 
exempt from taxation, or the religious denomination qualifies for tax-
exempt status; 
 
--  The applicant has been a member of the denomination for two years 
immediately preceding admission;  
 
--  The applicant is entering the United States solely to carry on the 
vocation of a minister of that denomination, or, at the request of the 
organization, the applicant is entering the United States to work in a 
religious vocation or occupation for the denomination or for an 
organization affiliated with the denomination, whether in a professional 
capacity or not;  and 
 
--  The applicant has resided and been physically present outside the 
United States for the immediate prior year if he or she has previously 
spent five years in this classification. 
 
APPLYING FOR THE VISA 
 
Religious workers should generally apply at the U.S. Embassy or 
Consulate with jurisdiction over their place of permanent residence.  
Although visa applicants may apply at any U.S. consular office abroad, 
it may be more difficult to apply.  There is no requirement that 
applicants for R visas have a residence abroad which they have no 
intention of abandoning, but they must intend to depart the United 
States at the end of their lawful status. 
 
Required Documentation 
 
Each applicant for the visa must submit: 
 
(1)  An application form OF-156, completed and signed.  Blank forms are 
available without charge at all U.S. consular offices; 
 
(2)  A passport valid for travel to the United States and with a 
validity date at least six months beyond the applicant's intended period 
of stay in the United States.  If more than one person is included in 
the passport, each person desiring a visa must make an application; 
 
(3)  One photograph 1 and 1/2 inches square (37x37mm) for each applicant 
aged 16 and older, showing full face, without head covering, against a 
light background. 
 
Additional Documentation 
 
The applicant must be prepared to present to the consular officer any or 
all of the following documentation to verify that the applicant and the 
religious organization qualify for the R status: 
 
(1)  Proof of tax-exempt status or eligibility for tax-exempt status, 
and 
 
(2)  A letter from an authorized official of the specific unit of the 
employing organization certifying: 
 
--  That if the applicant's religious membership was maintained, in 
whole or in part, outside the United States, the foreign and United 
States religious organizations belong to the same religious 
denomination; 
 
--  That, immediately prior to the application for the R visa, the alien 
has been a member of the religious denomination for the required two-
year period; 
 
--  That, (as appropriate): 
    --  If the applicant is a minister, he or she is authorized to 
conduct religious worship for that denomination.  The duties should be 
described in detail;  or 
 
    --  If the applicant is a religious professional, he or she has at 
least a baccalaureate degree or equivalent, and that such a degree is 
required for entry into the religious profession;  or 
 
    --  If the applicant is to work in a nonprofessional vocation or 
occupation, he or she is qualified if the type of work to be done 
relates to a traditional religious function; 
 
--  The arrangements for remuneration, including the amount and source 
of salary, other types of compensation such as food and housing, and any 
other benefits to which a monetary value may be affixed, and a statement 
whether such remuneration shall be in exchange for services rendered; 
 
--  The name and location of the specific organizational unit of the 
religious denomination or affiliate for which the applicant will be 
providing services;  and 
 
--  If the alien is to work for an organization which is affiliated with 
a religious denomination, a description of the nature of the 
relationship between the two organizations: 
 
    --  evidence of the religious organization's assets and methods of 
operation;  and 
    --  the organization's papers of incorporation under applicable 
state law. 
 
U.S. PORT OF ENTRY 
 
Applicants should be aware that a visa does not guarantee entry  into 
the United States.  The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service 
(INS) has authority to deny admission.  Also, the period for which the 
bearer of a religious worker visa is authorized to remain in the United 
States is determined by the INS, not the consular officer.  At the port 
of entry, an INS official must authorize the traveler's admission to the 
U.S.  At that time the INS Form I-94, Record of Arrival-Departure, which 
notes the length of stay permitted, is validated.  Those visitors who 
wish to stay beyond the time indicated on their Form I-94 must contact 
the INS to request Form I-539, Extension of Stay.  The decision to grant 
or deny a request for extension of stay is made solely by the INS. 
 
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION 
 
Family Members 
 
A nonimmigrant religious worker's spouse and unmarried children under 21 
years of age may be granted derivative status.  They may study but may 
not accept employment in the United States. 
 
Time Limits 
 
Holders of R visas may remain in the U.S. for up to five years to pursue 
their calling. 
 
FURTHER INQUIRIES 
 
Questions on qualifications for the religious worker classification and 
visa application procedures should be made to the American consular 
office abroad where the applicant intends to apply.  Questions on 
conditions and limitations on employment should be made to the local INS 
office. 
 
 
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF STATE 
PUBLICATION 10070 
Bureau of Consular Affairs 
Visa Services Directorate 
August 1995 
 
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