January 16, 2015 Douglas Lightman

An Overview of the R-1 Religious Worker Visa for a Rabbi

The R-1 visa is a great option for a Rabbi coming to the US to work in a Rabbinical role.

For US immigration purposes, a Rabbi is considered a “minister of religion,” (one of several occupational categories of R-1 religious workers). This means that they are employed in a professional capacity in an religious vocation or occupation. For a Rabbi to qualify as a “minister of religion,” they must be authorized by a recognized religious denomination (Judaism) to perform duties usually performed by members of the clergy of that religion.

The R-1 visa is for religious workers coming to the United States to work for a temporary basis.

An R-1 Religious Visa applicant will need to be working for at least 20 hours a week at a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. An R-1 can be granted initially for up to 30 months and extended for an additional 30 months. The R-1 religious worker’s period of stay may not exceed 60 months (5 years).

After filing the application forms with various supporting documents and paying the fee, the USCIS will conduct a site inspection at the place of employment. The purpose of the inspection is to verify that the organization is a bona fide, functioning religious organization.

What is required from a Rabbi for an R-1 visa?

Part of the process involved in filing an R-1 application is establishing the applicant has served for a specific denomination for at least 2 years prior to filing. For a Rabbi, he or she would have to establish that they are ordained in the specific denomination, in this case Judaism. For the employer, whether it be a Synagogue or a summer camp, they will be required to produce the same level of proof that their organization is a bona fide Judaic religious organization.

The most important thing needing proof by the applicant is that they have been employed by an organization of the applicable denomination for at least 2 years prior to filing the application. A Rabbi applying for an R-1 Religious Visa must provide supporting documentation connected to their membership and previous experience with the Jewish religion.

Examples of supporting documents that can be submitted with the application to prove these requirements include:

  • A copy of the Rabbi’s certificate of ordination;
  • Any evidence of completed theological education at an accredited University (such as transcripts and a copy of the degree);
  • Information connecting the Rabbi’s previous occupation with that of the Jewish faith. Examples include letters from past employers, website printouts and organizational literature from previous employer organizations; and
  • A resume outlining the applicant’s previous work and educational experience.

What is required from the sponsoring employer or organization?

The religious organization primarily needs to provide support of its tax-exempt status, that it is inexorably linked to the applicable denomination (Judaism), and that they have the means to support the proposed Rabbi’s salary in their budget.

Examples of supporting documents that can be submitted with the application to prove these requirements include:

  • An IRS 501(c)(3) letter, evidencing the organization’s tax-exempt status;
  • Documentation that establishes the religious nature and purpose of the organization including, printouts from the organizations website and photographs of events;
  • Organizational literature;
  • A religious denomination certification, (part of the R-1 Classification Supplement to Form I-129);
  • IRS documents such as Form W-2 or certified tax returns must be provided if they are available; and
  • Recent financial statements.

Types of Organizations that could hire a Rabbi on an R-1

There are a wide variety of organizations that would be able to hire a Rabbi on an R-1 Religious worker visa.

In addition to Synagogues, Rabbis may serve as Chaplains at Hospitals, Universities and Prisons. In addition to campus Chaplain, Rabbis may be hired for a wide variety of positions at Colleges and Universities, including Jewish cultural groups. Rabbis may also be employed at the community level at youth summer camps or community outreach organizations.

For more information on the R-1 Visa, contact Lightman Law Firm at (212) 643-0985 or submit a consultation request online. Also visit our R1-Visa section for more information as well as common questions about the R-1 Religious Worker Visa

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Douglas Lightman

The award-winning Lightman Law Firm was founded by Douglas M. Lightman, Esq. Mr. Lightman has extensive experience in immigration law and international matters through both work and personal experience. Prior to forming Lightman Law Firm, Mr. Lightman spent several years at an international tax consulting and compliance firm where he focused on international tax consulting and cross border transactions. Mr. Lightman is a United States trained lawyer who received his law degree from Brooklyn Law School and is a member in good standing of the Bar of the State of New York and a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, the world's largest organization of immigration lawyers. To discuss your possible case with Mr. Lightman or another immigration lawyer from Lightman Law Firm LLC, call (212) 643-0985 or fill out the consultation request form on your right. A representative of our firm will contact you shortly upon review of your request.