Foreign nationals, ministers and non-ministers in religious vocations and occupations may temporarily enter or immigrate to the United States for the purpose of performing religious work. A petitioning religious organization needs to submit clear evidence showing that it is a bona fide tax-exempt organization. The regulations make clear that only an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) determination letter identifying the organization as a nonprofit organization under Internal Revenue Code (IRC) §501(c)(3) is acceptable; a tax-exempt determination under IRC §501(d), 26 USC §501(d), will not qualify an organization to file nonimmigrant and immigrant petitions for religious workers.
For Catholic organizations, the IRS has annually issued a letter to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops regarding its group ruling since 1946. This group-ruling letter indicates that organizations listed in the Official Catholic Directory are covered by the group’s tax-exempt ruling. Therefore, submission of a copy of the most recent version of the IRS group ruling letter and a copy of the Official Catholic Directory is sufficient to demonstrate tax-exempt status and membership in the denomination.
Non-immigrant Religious Worker Visa:
An R1 Visa enables foreign religious workers to temporarily enter the United States to be employed at least part time (average of at least 20 hours per week) by a non-profit religious organization in the United States (or an organization which is affiliated with the religious denomination in the United States) to work as a minister or in a religious vocation or occupation engaged in either a professional or non-professional capacity.
Application for designation as an R-1 temporary religious worker, based on an approval of the qualifying religious employer’s petition to the USCIS, may be made in one of the following ways: If the individual is in the U.S. in a valid nonimmigrant status seeking a change of status to R or an extension of status. (All R-1 petitions are currently processed at the California Service Center, regardless of where the foreign national will be employed.) If the individual is outside the U.S., then the application can be made directly by the individual at the U.S. consulate nearest his/her place of residence that accepts this nonimmigrant visa application by filing the Nonimmigrant Visa Application (DS-156).
An initial period of stay for an approved R-1 worker and dependents will be approved for the requested period, not to exceed 3 years. An extension of stay may be granted for an additional 2 years, not to exceed a total maximum stay of 5 years. Please note that unlike workers in the H-1B classification, R-1 religious workers may not extend the 5-year period based on an approved petition for Special Immigrant Religious Worker or approved labor certification and Immigrant Worker petition.
Immigrant Religious Worker Visa:
An Employment-based, Fourth preference (EB-4) Visa allows foreign religious workers to immigrate to the United States for the purpose of performing religious work in a full-time compensated position
To qualify as a special immigrant religious worker, the foreign national must: have been a member of a religious denomination that has a bona fide non-profit religious organization in the United States for at least 2 years immediately or before the filing of a petition for this status with USCIS; and seek to enter the United States to work in a full time, compensatedposition with a bona fide non-profit religious organization in the United States; or a bona fide organization that is affiliated with the religious denomination in the United States.
To petition for an employment-based fourth preference immigrant for foreign religious workers, a qualifying religious employer must file a Petition for Special Immigrant. If an the I-360 petition is approved, the alien must either obtain an immigrant visa through a US consulate abroad or, if present in the US, submit a Form I-485 to the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for adjustment of status from whatever temporary (nonimmigrant) classification under which the alien entered the US to permanent resident (immigrant). Please note that the USCIS modified its procedures and no longer accepts concurrent filings of Form I-360 petitions and Form I-485 applications.
Please note that there is a statutory numerical limit (or “cap”) of 5,000 workers who may be issued a special immigrant non-minister religious worker visa during each fiscal year. There is no cap for special immigrant religious workers entering the United States solely for the purpose of carrying on the vocation of a minister.On September 28, 2012, President Obama signed Public Law 112-176 extending the non-minister special immigrant religious worker program through September 30, 2015. The law allows these workers to immigrate or adjust to permanent resident by that date. Non-minister special immigrant religious workers include those within a religious vocation or occupation engaged in either a professional or non-professional capacity.
If you have questions about the Religious Worker Visa, please contact Sujin Kim, Esq. at (251) 379-8065/ (251) 387-2544 or firstname.lastname@example.org