Generally, a citizen of a foreign country who wishes to enter the United States must first obtain a visa, either a nonimmigrant visa for temporary stay, or an immigrant visa for permanent residence. Temporary religious worker (R-1) visas are for persons who want to enter the United States to work temporarily in religious capacities.
- be a member of the same religious denomination as the religious organization you plan to work for in the United States for at least two years before that organization files a petition on your behalf;
- be coming to work as a minister or in a religious vocation or occupation in the United States;
- be employed by a non-profit religious organization in the United States (or an organization affiliated with the religious denomination in the United States); and
- work at least part time, an average of at least 20 hours per week.
Certain religious related activities can be undertaken using a visitor (B) visa, such as private worship, prayer, meditation, informal religious study, and attendance at religious services or conferences in the United States. Also, a visitor visa is generally appropriate for ministers of religion seeking to come to the United States temporarily, whose wages and reimbursement will be paid by their own religious group outside the United States, and when coming for:
- An evangelical tour, without taking an appointment with any one church; or
- Exchanging pulpits temporarily with U.S. counterparts; or
- Members performing missionary or voluntary service for a denomination, such as to aid the elderly or needy.
When you have a religious vocation or profession, or are a religious worker coming temporarily to be employed, with your salary paid by a non-profit religious organization in the United States, the visitor visa is not permitted, and you must have a religious worker (R) visa or other work visa.