During Ramadan, many Imams and Sheikhs may travel to the US for various purposes. It is important to know what type of visas are appropriate for their visit. This advisory will focus on comparing visitor visas and religious worker visas to help Imams and Sheikhs determine which visas is appropriate for their admission to the US.  Generally, a foreign national who wishes to enter the U.S. must first obtain a visa.

Visitor visas are nonimmigrant visas for persons who want to enter the United States temporarily for business (visa category B-1), for tourism (visa category B-2), or for a combination of both purposes (B-1/B-2).

B-1 visas are generally issued in cases where a foreign national is interested in:

  • Consulting with business associates
  • Attending professional convention or conference;
  • Settling an estate; or
  • Negotiating a contract

B-2 visas are sought for:

  • Tourism
  • Vacation (holiday)
  • Visit with friends or relatives
  • Medical treatment

An important note to keep in mind is that B-1/B-2 visas CANNOT be used for study, employment or paid work, even if temporary.  This means an Imam or Sheikh cannot be paid or compensated by a mosque for providing services during Ramadan if they entered the U.S. on a B-1/B-2 visa. They would be denied admission at the airport if CBP suspects that they will get paid for Ramadan services in the U.S.

If an Imam or Sheikh intends to be paid or compensated for services provided during Ramadan, arrangements should be made several months ahead to apply for an R-1 visa. An R-1 visa is intended for a foreign national who is coming to the United States temporarily to be employed as an imam/sheikh at least part-time (average of at least 20 hours per week) by:

  • A non-profit religious organization in the United States;
  • A religious organization that is authorized by a group tax exemption holder to use its group tax exemption; or
  • A non-profit religious organization that is affiliated with a religious denomination in the United States.

This visa program is intended for religious workers whose lives are dedicated to religious practices and functions. An R-1 visa is temporary and allows for a temporary stay in the U.S. for the purpose listed above.

Anyone with further questions should call CAIR-LA for a free consultation at 714.776.1177.