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Q: Why has the USCIS published new rules for the religious worker visa?

USCIS has issued new rules for the R-1 religious worker visa to address fraud concerns in the religious worker program. The new rules took place as of November 21, 2008.

The new rules adopted a multi-faceted approach to fight fraud concerns by the USCIS. For example, there is now a petitioner’s attestation requirement. In addition, pursuant to the new rules, USCIS may conduct onsite inspections to verify the legitimacy of the petitioning organization and the job offered to the nonimmigrant.

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Q: How long may a nonimmigrant religious worker work in the U.S.?

While the new rules maintain that the maximum period of stay for a R-1 religious worker continues to be five (5) years, now the nonimmigrant religious worker will be admitted into the U.S. for an initial period of up to 30 months, with the possibility of extending their stay for an additional period of up to 30 months. The length of stay will depend on the need for the nonimmigrant religious worker's services.

In order to be eligible for a new five-year maximum period of stay, the nonimmigrant must first reside outside the U.S. for at least one (1) full year. This one (1) year requirement does not affect those applicants who had previously worked in the U.S. on an intermittent, or seasonal basis, or if the applicant had resided outside the U.S. and commuted to the U.S. to perform part-time work.

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Q: Will I be able to apply for a nonimmigrant religious worker visa at my nearest U.S. consulate or embassy or at the port-of-entry into the U.S.?

Not anymore. A nonimmigrant religious worker now must have an approved R-1 Petition filed by the employer seeking to employ the beneficiary. USCIS will review the petition and upon approval, the nonimmigrant religious worker may visit his or her local U.S. consulate or embassy and obtain an R-1 visa to gain admission to the U.S.

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Q: What type of organizations can file for religious worker R-1 petition?

The R-1 nonimmigrant religious worker petition can be filed by either a bona fide non-profit religious organization or a non-profit organization (does not necessary have to be a religious organization themselves) that is affiliated with the religious denomination. A bona fide non-profit religious organization can establish their filing eligibility by including a currently valid determination letter from the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) showing that the organization is tax exempt as a religious organization.

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Q: Is there an annual cap on religious worker visas?

No. Currently, there is no quota or numerical cap to the number of religious worker R-1 visas that can be issued to religious workers each year.

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