Religious Workers

Members of a religious denomination having a genuine non-profit religious organization in the United States may be admitted to work for the U.S. organization for an initial period of 30 months. A thirty month extension is available for a total of five years. The following requirements must be met:

  • The applicant must have been a member of a religious denomination for two years immediately proceeding the application. A religious denomination is a community of believers having some form of church governance, a statement of faith, a form of worship, a code of doctrine and discipline, religious services or ceremonies, established places of worship, religious congregations, or similar indications of a legitimate religious organization.
  • The religion must have an organization in the United States which qualifies for nonprofit treatment under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.
  • The applicant must be coming to the United States to serve in one of three categories: (1) an ordained minister or equivalent under the religion’s practice; (2) a person committed to a life-long religious vocation, such as a nun or monk; orΒ  (3) other religious workers performing a traditional religious function, such as liturgical workers, religious instructors, cantors, catechists, workers in religious hospitals, and missionaries.
  • The person must work for a minimum of 20 hours per week.

All religious organizations must file an I-129 petition with R Supplement before a religious worker may be granted R status. This is now true whether the person is seeking a change of status in the United States, or will be seeking a visa abroad. It is no longer possible to apply for a visa without an approved petition. These petitions are scrutinized carefully by USCIS because of fraud concerns. At least one physical site visit by CIS fraud investigators is now required for every petitioner before any R-1 petition can be approved.

After two years of continuous full time employment, a religious worker may apply for a Green Card as a special immigrant. This is done on Form I-360. Once the I-130 is approved the person may apply for adjustment of status. It is not possible to file the I-360 and adjustment application concurrently. This requires careful planning to ensure the beneficiary will be able to file for adjustment before the five years in R status is used up. In some cases, alternatives such as B-1 or H-1B may be available to extend the time period.

The special immigrant provisions for non-ministers is a temporary program that was set to expire on September 30, 2105. It has now been extended to December 11, 2015.