R-2 Visa for Family of Religious Workers (R-1 Holders)

Family members of R-1 holders are eligible for an R-2 visa. Here's how to apply.

By , Attorney · Capital University Law School

An R-2 visa is a U.S. nonimmigrant (temporary) visa that may be issued to the spouse and unmarried children (under 21 years) of R-1 visa holders (religious workers). It allows the spouse and children to accompany or join the R-1 visa holder for the duration of the R-1 visa holder's U.S. stay.

There is no cap on the number of visas issued under the R-2 category each year.

R-2 Visa Requirements

To be eligible for an R-2 visa, you must be the spouse or unmarried child (less than 21 years of age) of an R-1 visa holder (as defined in I.N.A. § 101(a)(15)(R).)

To get an R-1 visa, your spouse or parent will need to be a religious worker who has been a member of a legitimate religious denomination for the last two years, and who plans to come to the United States to carry on the activities of a religious worker for a U.S. affiliate of that organization (with that organization's cooperation).

Application Process for an R-2 Visa

To apply for an R-2 visa, you'll first need to wait while your spouse or parent's employer begins the process by filing a petition on USCIS Form I-129.

After that is approved by USCIS, you'll need to make an appointment at a U.S. consulate in your home country to apply for the visa. Or, if you're already staying (legally) in the U.S., your employer might be able to submit a change of status application (Form I-539) at the same time as the I-129 visa petition, allowing you to switch to R status without leaving the United States.

Note: Citizens of Canada don't need to apply for this visa at a consulate, but can go straight to the U.S. border with the materials described below.

Fees and Costs for R-2 Visa

The employer will no doubt pay the USCIS Form I-129 fee. However, you might have to pay the R-2 visa fees, including a processing fee and "reciprocity" fees, if applicable. Check the Fees for Visa Services page of the State Department website for the latest processing fee.

For reciprocity fees, check the State Department's U.S. Visa: Reciprocity and Civil Documents by Country page to determine whether a reciprocity fee applies and how much you'll need to pay at the time of your visa interview. First choose your country and then "R" for visa classification to see the amounts.

Documents Needed for R-2 Visa Application

Your application for a R-2 visa must be made on State Department Form DS–160, which you'll fill out online before going to the U.S. consulate. If you make your application at the same time as the primary, R-1 visa holder, then you'll need to bring:

  • Your current, valid passport.
  • Proof of relationship to the R-1 visa holder, such as a marriage certificate or a birth certificate (for unmarried children under 21). Bring originals, not just copies.
  • One passport-style photograph of each applicant.
  • Documents showing your intention of returning to your home country when your permitted stay is over, such as copies of a home mortgage or a letter from an employer saying that your job is being held open for you.
  • Receipt for having paid the application fee described above.

If the application is made separately, besides the above-mentioned R-2 documents, it must be accompanied by:

  • Copy of the spouse/parent's passport having the R-1 visa.
  • Copy of the spouse/parent's USCIS approval notice for Form I-129 (often called "I-797 Approval Notice").
  • Copies of R-1 documents submitted by the R-1 visa holder.

Benefits and Limitations of R-2 Visa

Here's what you need to be aware of in order to enjoy and maintain your R-2 status in the U.S.:

  • You will be admitted and allowed to remain in the United States for as long the primary visa holder maintains lawful status. An R-1 is ordinarily allowed to stay in the U.S. for no more five years in total.
  • R-2 visa holders are not permitted to accept employment in the United States. If you wish to seek employment in the United States, you must apply for a different visa or, after you arrive in the U.S., find a willing employer and apply to change your status.
  • You can attend any full- or part-time school or college without having to apply for an F-1 student visa.

R-2 Visa Extension Procedure

The initial R-2 visa may be granted for a period of up to 30 months. USCIS may approve extensions of stay for a period of up to 30 months, as well. The total period of stay for a person holding an R-2 visa may not exceed five years.

Any Possibility of Conversion to Permanent Immigration Status?

There is no direct path from an R visa to a green card. In fact, one of the conditions of the R visa is that its holders intend to return home when their stay is over.

If you become otherwise eligible for a green card, talk to an immigration lawyer. It might be possible for you to obtain it, but submitting the application could also put your current R-2 visa status at risk, because it would show that you have a mix of intentions.

Talk to an Immigration attorney.
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