R-1 visa holders who are currently working in the United States as ministers or in a religious vocation or occupation have a fairly simple route to obtaining a green card to become U.S. lawful permanent residents. The requirements to qualify for an R-1 visa and a green card are very similar. One key distinction is that the person applying for a green card as a religious worker must, as a prerequisite, have two years of qualifying employment as a religious worker.
The R-1 visa provides a convenient way for people to gain that two years of experience in the United States. A simple route to the green card for a religious worker, therefore, is to obtain the R-1 visa, work for two years, and then have the same or another employer start the green card process.
It is not necessary to have an R-1 visa first in order to apply for a green card. If the religious worker has already gained two years of qualifying employment experience abroad, it's possible to apply directly for the green card following the processing described below. The only benefit of first getting the R-1 visa is that in some cases, it might be faster, by several months, to get the person here initially and then pursue the green card.
Here's an overview of the steps by which an R-1 visa holder would move forward to obtaining a U.S. green card.
Once a person has the required two years of experience as a religious worker, the first step is for the U.S. employer to file a petition with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The key information and materials include the following:
Once you get a receipt notice from USCIS, you will be given instructions for checking the status of your case online.
One common source of delay is that USCIS typically insists on making a site visit for first-time applications under the religious worker category, so as to verify the legitimacy of the organization and the proposed employment. The site visit might involve a tour of the employer's primary and branch locations, an examination of relevant documents, and interviews with employees and church officials. Site visits are also usually required in connection with first-time R-1 visa applications.
Be sure to inform other employees at the work location of an impending site visit, so they can direct the USCIS inspector to the person handling the I-360 petition.
After USCIS approves the I-360 petition, the employee will follow one of two routes to obtain the green card: Either file an I-485 Application to Adjust Status with USCIS in the United States or apply for an "immigrant visa" (which leads immediately to a green card after U.S. entry) at the U.S. consulate abroad.
Beneficiaries (current or future employees) of I-360 petitions who are in the U.S. and are in lawful immigration status may apply for their green cards by submitting Form I-485, Application to Adjust Status, to USCIS. Dependent family members (spouse and children under age 21) also can submit I-485 Applications as "derivative" applicants.
For more information on this application process, see Nolo's articles on Adjustment of Status Procedures.
Prospective employees who are abroad while the employer is pursuing the I-360 petition will follow a different procedure upon approval of the I-360 petition. They will start by preparing and submitting documents and paying various fees through the National Visa Center (NVC) in the United States.
Once the NVC completes its initial processing, the employee and dependent family members (spouse and children under age 21) will eventually visit the U.S. consulate in their home country to get immigrant visas (which are the legal equivalent of green cards) there. The consulate places a temporary proof of status in the passport ("I-551 Stamp"), and the actual green card is mailed to the person's U.S. address within a few weeks or months after arriving in the United States.
For more information on consular processing, see the Consular Processing Procedures page of Nolo's website. From the time of the I-360 petition approval, the religious worker applicant can expect to wait about eight to ten months to attend the interview at the U.S. consulate. Note that the COVID-19 pandemic created extraordinary backlogs for consular interviews and that the waiting time for an interview could be longer.
For more information on the R-1 visa and the employment-based religious worker green card category, see R Visa to the U.S. as a Religious Worker: Who Qualifies? and EB-4 Visa for Religious Workers: Who Qualifies?.