Status vs. Visa Documents for Religious Workers

Last Updated

March 28, 2023

Many immigrants who successfully obtain an approval of their I-129 petition for R-1 religious worker status have questions about the difference between their approval notices and their visas, which document actually serves as proof of status, and their ability to travel internationally during their R-1 validity period. While the different terms and documents can be confusing to keep track of, it is critical that every beneficiary of R-1 status be aware of the difference between their R-1 status and the R-1 visa document that allows them to enter the United States.

Upon approval of their I-129 Petition for R-1 status, every religious worker (beneficiary) should receive an I-797 Approval Notice from USCIS. This approval notice should give the name of the beneficiary, the religious organization who sponsored the petition, and the validity period of their R-1 status. Please be aware that this document is only a notice of an approved petition and does not qualify as a visa or give a person status.

Which document serves as proof of status?

A beneficiary’s I-94 record serves as proof of status. It contains an I-94 number; the beneficiary’s name, date of birth, passport number, last date of entry to the United States; and an expiration date. Because the I-94 record serves as proof of lawful status, a beneficiary should show any official who asks for proof of lawful status within the United States this document. Usually, upon entering the United States, the beneficiary will be given an I-94 record by Customs Border and Protection, or CBP. This record must be retrieved by the beneficiary on the CBP website each time the beneficiary has reentered the U.S. For beneficiaries who are extending their current status, their new I-94 record is typically attached to the bottom of their I-129 Petition approval notice.

If the I-94 record is your proof of status, how does the R-1 visa document factor in?

The R-1 visa document is what allows a beneficiary to be admitted into the United States in R-1 status once the beneficiary has returned to the United States from an international trip abroad. Once obtained it is the “key” to entry.

This also applies in cases where a beneficiary who has already entered the United States wishes to travel abroad. Once the beneficiary arrives in the United States, and decides to travel abroad, he or she must have a currently valid R-1 visa to reenter the country upon their return, even if the beneficiary has already entered before. Upon entry to the United States, the beneficiary will receive a new I-94 record, which will serve as their new proof of status.

Please note that the various international consulates and embassies may issue a visa for a different validity period than the one contained on the beneficiary’s Approval Notice. It is important to always check the expiration date of the visa to ensure that it is currently valid before making any international travel plans. If the beneficiary travels abroad, and their visa expires, they will be required to apply for and obtain a new visa document before being allowed to reenter the United States.

Please also note that citizens of certain countries, such as Canada, are visa exempt because of an agreement with the United States. These foreign nationals are not required to obtain a visa for entry into the United States.

If you have any questions about the difference between status and a visa, or you have questions about any planned travel outside the United States, please contact your assigned RIS attorney.