Can You Get a B or R Visa to the U.S. for Volunteer Work at a Spiritual/Fundraising Event?

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Question:

We are a nonprofit spiritual education organization. During the upcoming year we are planning to host several events in the U.S. centered around widely recognized spiritual leaders. The events will last a few days and culminate with a keynote address by the featured spiritual leader. Throughout each event we will promote and sell a variety of educational and promotional items. We also will solicit funding for our organization. To help make this a reality, we contacted a foreign national who has extensive experience in running these types of events for religious and spiritual organizations. We would provide only room and board and reimbursement for travel and incidental expenses for him and his family. Is there a visa that would allow him to come to the U.S. with his family for a year to do this?

Answer:

Your event planner is in the middle of qualifying for more than one U.S. visa: The B-1 visa for business visitors, and the R-1 visa for religious workers. Unfortunately, it’s not a perfect match in either case, so you may want to look again at your plans for him to see whether they can be adjusted.

From what you describe, it sounds like there are two parts to your plans: event management and sales/fundraising. The B-1 visitor visa allows persons who have a place of permanent residence abroad to travel to the U.S. on a temporary basis to participate in business activities (meetings, conferences, and so forth) that are not considered actual work or employment. Therefore, a U.S. consulate might grant it for the event management portion of the applicant’s intended activities, but could not grant it if the activities included anything to do with earning money or raising funds for the organization. If your events typically involve selling various items and soliciting donations, this person will not qualify for a visitor visa.

The R Visa for Religious Workers, unfortunately, is intended for people doing work directly connected to the church’s core spiritual activities. The job itself further must be religious in nature, such as a minister, choir director, or monk. Event management-type duties are mostly administrative, which would not qualify the worker for an R visa. The R visa also is not available for volunteers – the person must be doing paid work. See "R Visa to the U.S. as a Religious Worker: Who Qualifies?" for more information.

Only if the events are designed to assist the poor or needy in the United States or further your organization's religious or charitable mission without sales or solicitations would this person likely qualify for a B-1 visitor visa. His family (spouse and children under age 21) also could get B visas to accompany him. The visa can be valid for up to a year or longer. When he enters the U.S., the immigration officer may grant a period of stay of six months or more. If they get just six months, it's possible later to file an application with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in the U.S. to extend their stay.

To help this person apply for the visa at the U.S. consulate in his home country, you would need to provide a letter that explains your "voluntary service program" – which is the formal term the various agencies use to describe these types of events – and states the volunteer's name and place of birth, permanent address abroad, your organization's address, and how long he will be in the United States.

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