If you are a religious organization (i.e., a place of worship) or an organization affiliated with a religious denomination, you may be able to hire a foreign national as a religious worker. Before hiring that individual, your organization would need to file an R-1 petition with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”). Vicki Anderson will discuss with you the requirements for a successful R-1 petition, including:
- Your organization is tax exempt as described in section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 as it relates to religious organizations and that your organization has a currently valid determination letter from the Internal Revenue Service. In some cases, your organization may qualify as a subordinate under a group exemption.
- The position being offered is as a minister (clergy) or is a religious vocation or a religious occupation.
- Your prospective employee has been a member of the same denomination as your organization for at least the two years immediately preceding the filing of the R-1 petition.
- Your organization will compensate the religious worker. Although the regulations also state that a religious worker may be self-supporting, in reality, some compensation needs to be provided, which may be from another source.
An R-1 petition may be filed for a part-time position, so long as the religious worker will be working at least 20 hours per week.
Before an organization’s first R-1 petition is adjudicated, there will be an unannounced site visit by the USCIS Fraud Detection and National Security Directorate. During that site visit, the Officer will want to speak with the petitioner (the person who signed the forms and letter of support on behalf of the organization), will take photographs, may want to speak with the beneficiary (the prospective employee), and may want to review documents.
If your prospective employee is already in the U.S. in valid nonimmigrant status, a change of status can be requested when the R-1 petition is filed with the USCIS. If your prospective employee lives outside the U.S., once the R-1 petition has been approved, your prospective employee will need to apply for an R-1 visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate before traveling to the U.S. to start employment.
Religious workers are permitted to be in R-1 status for a total of 5 years. An organization may request R-1 classification for no more than 30 months at a time. Thus, to take advantage of the entire 5-year period, usually 30 months is requested with the first R-1 petition and then a petition to extend R-1 status for the remaining 30 months is filed towards the end of the first 30-month period.
Whether you are a church, a mosque, a religious school, a religious retreat center, or some other type of religious organization, Vicki Anderson Immigration Law can assist you with your R-1 petition and the subsequent R-1 visa, if needed.
I-360, Special Immigrant Religious Worker Petitions – Green Cards for Religious Workers
A religious organization or an organization affiliated with a religious denomination can sponsor a religious worker for a green card, which is also known as U.S. permanent residence. The requirements are the same as the requirements for an R-1 petition with one additional requirement – for the two years immediately preceding the filing of the I-360 petition, the religious worker must have been employed in a full-time capacity as a minister, in a religious vocation, or in a religious occupation. Also, the permanent position being offered to the religious worker must be a full-time position. If the prior employment was in the United States, the employment must have been authorized under U.S. immigration law.
After the USCIS approves the I-360 petition, the religious worker will need to either apply for adjustment of status in the U.S. by filing Form I-485 or apply for an immigrant visa outside the U.S. at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate. Vicki Anderson Immigration Law, LLC can discuss with you the appropriate process, depending on the facts of the case. U.S. permanent residence is granted when the I-485 application is approved or when the religious worker enters the U.S. with the immigrant visa.
For non-minister religious workers, there is an additional complication. The special immigrant religious worker program is not a permanent program for non-ministers. There is a sunset date for the program, and I-360 petitions for non-minister religious workers can only be filed before the sunset date is reached. Likewise, non-minister religious workers can only be granted permanent residence before the sunset date is reached. Thankfully, Congress keeps extending the sunset date and has been doing so for many years.
Special immigrant religious workers are part of the EB-4 preference category. For religious workers born in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico, the category is oversubscribed and there is currently a backlog. For religious workers born in those countries, it is always important to consult the State Department’s Visa Bulletin, which is published each month.
The processing time for an I-360, special immigrant religious worker petition, is currently very long. It is important that, if you wish to sponsor a religious worker for a green card, you do so as soon as that religious worker becomes eligible. Otherwise, the religious worker may run out of time in R-1 status.
Contact Vicki Anderson Immigration Law, LLC
Vicki Anderson will discuss timing and strategies with you and will guide you through this process. Over the years, she has helped many religious workers become U.S. permanent residents. To schedule a consultation, call 651-968-0551 or fill out the online contact form.