Bringing the Original I-129 Approval Notice to the R-1 Visa Interview

Last Updated

September 26, 2023

Generally, a foreign national applying for an R-1 visa is required to attend an interview at the U.S. embassy or consulate in their home country. This means in order to receive a visa, a petition must be filed on the religious worker’s behalf, and after the petition’s approval an interview with a consular officer must be conducted at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

During the interview, along with asking a variety of questions such as inquiring about the foreign national and their proposed work, the officer will also ask for certain documents. Traditionally, as this is a petition-based visa that is dependent upon an approved petition, it has been standard practice to bring the original approval notice along with a copy of the petition to the interview. However, as the immigration process becomes progressively more digitized, many wonder if this is still the case?

A joke that is often repeated at the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) conventions is that each embassy and consulate is a fiefdom onto itself, and this truth certainly carries into these interviews, with many consulates asking a variety of different questions and requesting different documents. The list of required documents for visas can usually be found online, with varying degrees of difficulty depending on the country the interview will take place in and the system they use. Regardless of which system the country uses to help them schedule visa interviews, certain things are always required at the interview such as a valid passport and the DS-160 application confirmation page. Another document on this list is the I-797B Notice of Action notice (original I-129 approval notice), showing verification of the requisite approved petition. With verification of the approved petition being mandated through the Petition Information Management Service system (PIMS), a system where information from USCIS is shared with U.S. embassies and consulates, a growing number of consulates no longer require the original, or even any copy, of the approval notice to be brought to the interview.

When the I-129 petition for a nonimmigrant religious worker is approved, it is uploaded into the PIMS system. Once uploaded into the database, the consular officer has access to the approved petition. If the consular officer cannot access the approved petition, the officer will postpone the issuing of a visa, even if the religious worker has the original approval notice in their hand at the interview. If this occurs, the consular officer must send a message to the government asking for verification of the petition.

Because the consular officer must verify the petition in PIMS regardless of having the approval notice, most embassies now request just the receipt number of the petition. Therefore, at most consulates having the original approval notice is no longer a requirement.

Even though original approval notices are no longer required, we still encourage clients to bring the original approval notice or a copy if the original notice has not yet been received. As previously stated, each consulate can be a fiefdom unto itself, with their own internal practices and with broad discretion to deny or approve visas. Some officers simply still operate under old assumptions and practices, some consulates have failed to properly update their websites or notify third-party contractors that help them handle their visa interview systems. Whatever the reason may be, while it may no longer be an officially required document, we continue to encourage clients to have the original approval notice or a copy on hand.

Keep in mind, the original approval notice will be needed when the religious worker is traveling to the United States and appears at the U.S. port of entry before a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) along with the R-1 visa. Therefore, best practice is to ensure that the religious worker has the original I-797B Notice of Action notice (original I-129 approval notice) if needed for the R-1 visa interview and when traveling to the U.S.

If you have any questions, please contact your RIS assigned attorney.