How to apply for a clergy visa to the United States?

A US Visa for Religious Workers (R visa) allows religious service providers – rabbis, cantors, religious teachers, priests, spiritual guides or other religious leaders – to work in the United States for up to five years. It is important to note that clergy-members are sometimes entitled to receive a Green Card (US resident status) after the expiration of the R visa. To obtain the visa, a religious worker is required to receive an invitation to work on a religious mission from a recognized religious organization or community in the United States. The law firm of Cohen, Decker, Pex, Brosh in Petach Tikva specializes in immigration to the United States. This article by advocate Jamie Cohen will explain who can be eligible to receive a US Visa for Religious Workers.

What religious organization or community may invite a religious worker to the United States?

US Visa for Religious Workers (R visa) The United States is a country with a strong emphasis on freedom of religion. The immigration authorities are unwilling and unable to define what is a “religious organization” or “community” in detail, because of the concern of excluding representatives of existing religions. Unlike Israel, the US doesn’t have a fixed list of recognized religious communities. In fact, the United States immigration authorities transfer responsibility for recognizing religious communities to the IRS. If the organization that invites the religious worker to the United States is recognized as a non-profit religious institution by the Internal Revenue Service, then it qualifies as a religious organization for the purpose of issuing an R visa.

What religious organization can send a clergyman to the US?

How to be sure whether the religious institution or organization that sends the religious worker to the United States is considered to be an officially “recognized” religious organization? The definition involved is a bit more obscure. In principle, the immigration authorities rely on the discretion of the staff of the American consulate / embassy in each country to distinguish between a religious institution with a distinguished history and reputation (for example, the Israeli rabbinate or the Greek Orthodox Church), as opposed to an unknown religious organization, such as a one-man cult.

What is the definition of a “religious worker” for the purpose of receiving a US Visa for Religious Workers?

The definition of religious work in the United States is also very comprehensive in terms of scope. Religious service providers who apply for a R visa to the US are supposed to do so, on the basis of permission from a recognized religious institution to conduct a religious vocation. A religious vocation is primarily one that is related to preaching, proselytizing, interpreting the texts and beliefs of religion, performing religious ceremonies, religious studies, and the like.

For a more practical explanation, we present an example: a list of functionaries at a synagogue registered as an association who are eligible or ineligible to receive a US Visa for Religious Workers. Those synagogue workers primarily employed in physical labor occupations – renovations, cleaning, general household chores – are not considered to be religious workers. Employees in administrative positions – management of the organization, solicitation of donations, public relations, the gabbai (if mainly involved in the administrative management of the synagogue) – are not considered religious figures in this respect. On the other hand, the rabbi of the synagogue, the cantor, teachers who teach Torah and Bible lessons, or those who teach youth and children, can receive an R visa to the USA.

How to apply for a US Visa for Religious Workers?

The organization inviting the religious worker to the United States must fill out a Form 129 on the USCIS website and send it to the DHS. The applicant for a US Visa for Religious Workers must complete Form D-160 – an application for an interview for a US visa. The confirmation number for receipt of Form 129 by the Immigration Authority should be brought to the applicant’s interview at the US consulate.

The religious worker seeking a visa to the United States is required to bring a letter from the religious organization that sends him to the United States, confirming that he is indeed a member of this organization (it is important to note that membership in the religious body is required to have been longer than two years – that is, the religious worker must not be a recent convert). The letter should confirm that the religious worker is qualified to work, represent and be involved in the life of a community on behalf of the religious organization in question. In general, the letter and the accompanying documents must explain the applicant’s qualifications, whether study in a seminary, Yeshiva, ordination as a priest, a degree in theology, and so forth.

It is necessary to explain where the applicant intends to work in the United States (the organization inviting him to the US), in what position, what is the contract of employment, and if there is no contract of employment, what was agreed upon regarding the salary or compensation for the religious work? An applicant for a US Visa for Religious Workers must work at least 20 hours a week in a religious vocation.

Finally, the applicant must present a passport which is valid for at least six months after the intended period of stay in the US.

What are the terms for a US Visa for Religious Workers?

An R visa / US Visa for Religious Workers is granted for a period of 30 months, but there is a possibility of renewing the visa for a period of up to 60 months (5 years). Please note that the US Immigration authorities are entitled to cancel the visa if the visa holder violates its terms, for example, by working in a non-religious position.

The visa holder may bring with him his family, spouse or children under the age of 21 to the US on the basis of an R-2 accompanying family members visa. Holders of R-2 visas may reside and study in the US, but cannot legally work there.

Contact the law firm of Cohen, Decker, Pex, Brosh in Petach Tikva, for legal assistance in immigration and work in the United States.

US Visa for Religious Workers

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