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Understanding Eligibility Criteria for Hindu Religious Workers Seeking an R-1 Visa


R-1 visa is an employment-based nonimmigrant visa for religious workers who want to come to the United States temporarily to work as a minister or in a religious vocation or occupation and be employed by a:

  • Non-profit religious organization in the United States with a tax-exempt determination letter under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986;

  • Religious organization that is authorized by a group tax exemption; or

  • Non-profit organization which is affiliated with a tax-exempt religious denomination in the United States


The general requirements for any person who wants to apply for the R-1 visa must fulfill the following conditions:

  • Be a member of a religious denomination for the last two years

  • The religious denomination must have a non-profit organization in the USA

  • Find a US employer who will file the I-129 petition for the applicant for a job in a non-profit religious organization, or an organization affiliated with the religion

  • The applicant must be a minister or a person working directly in the religious occupation or religious vocation

  • The applicant must work at least 20 hours per week (part-time)

  • The applicant must not work in any other positions beyond their religious capacity

Eligibility Criteria for Hindu Religious Workers

Under an R-1 visa, ministers and religious workers in religious vocations and occupations can come to the USA temporarily to perform religious work. Therefore, under Hinduism, there are two types of religious workers, ministers and non-ministers.


Those who are authorized to conduct religious services by a recognized religious denomination are referred to as ministers. To be eligible to offer religious services, a minister needs to hold a license, certification, or other official recognition from a recognized denomination. In Hinduism, Acharyas (religious teachers) and Pandit/Pujari (Hindu priests) are considered as ministers.

Religious Vocations 

A religious vocation includes a formal lifetime commitment to a religious way of life through vows, investitures, rituals, or equivalent indicators. In Hinduism, there is a class of people in the religious sect whose entire lives are devoted to religious activities and rituals. The followings are considered as religious vocation: Brahmachari (male) or Brahmacharini (female) (student monks) and Swami (male) or Swamini (female) (monks).

  • Brahmachari or Brahmacharini: A brahmachari or brahmacharini is a person who, at the earlier phases of training and initiation, made a formal lifetime commitment.

  • Swami or Swamini: A Swami or Swamini is a person who has chosen to become a monk for life.

Religious Occupation

The religious occupation covers all religious workers who perform essential traditional religious functions. For temples, this provision covers the following individuals: 

  • Paricharakara (religious food preparer): Paricharakaras prepare food offerings (prasadam) for Hindu worship services which are then distributed to temple devotees.

  • Sthapati (religious architect): Hindu architects and builders with traditional training are known as stapatis.

  • Shilpi (religious artisan): Hindu sculptors with traditional training are called shilpis.

  • Religious Artists: Hindu religious artists are musicians, singers, and dancers with specialized training who offer devotions or conduct workshops either off-site at the temple or organization or on the premises.

  • Religious Jewelers: One of the main aspects of worship in Hinduism is the ancient practice of alankara or the decorating of deities. For temple deities or murtis, Hindu religious jewellers create unique designs and embellishments using gold, silver, and gemstones on-site. 

Required Qualification Proving Documents:

  • Experience certificate or employment verification letter from current temple /organization (and/or any other previous employers/organization)

  • Letter of recommendation (from anyone who can prove that the applicant is qualified for the position, this can be from any authorized person from the current temple or the petitioner)

  • Photographs/Certificates/Documents of events, programs or any other religious activities that prove that the applicant studied Hindu religious scriptures (such as Bhagavad Gita, Vedas or any other Hindu religious scriptures) and served as a religious worker before

For the position of Minister (Acharya/Pandit), the applicant must have a license, certificate, or other formal recognition from a qualified denomination, which qualifies them to conduct religious services.

If the R-1 application is approved, the applicant will be granted an initial stay of up to 30 months, which can be extended for another 30 months, but the total period of stay cannot exceed a maximum of 5 years. Unlike EB-4, there is no cap on the number of R-1 visas that can be issued. Thus, anyone who fulfills the requirements can take advantage of this visa to work in their religious organization.

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