R-1 Visa

Getting Green Card Through A Church Or Synagogue.

This webpage will discuss how sponsorship by a church or synagogue can allow a person to obtain a green card. This can be done whether the person is in the U.S. or still somewhere in the former Soviet Union.

As with the R visa, to qualify for permanent residence, the person must be sponsored by a religious institution to work for that institution in a traditionally religious function. The organization must qualify as a nonprofit religious organization under the Internal Revenue Service guidelines, as most churches automatically do.

Unlike the temporary visa, the applicant must have two years of qualifying work experience in the religious vocation or other religious occupation for which the petition is being filed. This, of course, must be documented. We typically document this experience with a letter from the church or religious institution where the person worked in Russia or elsewhere in the former Soviet Union. The law provides that the qualifying two years of religious experience, although required to be continuous, need not be full time. Moreover, the two years of past experience need not be paid but may be work as a volunteer.

To apply for permanent residence, the church or other religious institution must submit an application, letter and supporting documentation stating its willingness to employ the applicant. The sponsorship application must be submitted to the USCIS office here, whether or not the person is presently in the U.S. If approved and the person is in the U.S., they then submit an application to the USCIS to change their status to permanent resident; if they in the former USSR, they would go to an American consulate to pick up their permanent residence visa.

Provided a church or other religious institution is willing to sponsor them, a religious worker can come to the U.S. within several months on an R-1 visa and then obtain permanent residence within a relatively short time afterward. It may be the simplest procedure for applying for a green card available to immigrants in these difficult times.

More Information:

  • R-1 Temporary Nonimmigrant Religious Workers (USCIS)
  • Temporary Religious Worker Visa (US Department of State)