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R: Religious Workers

R Visa Overview

Religious workers may obtain permanent residency in the United States through three routes:

  1. As a result of being a Minister, Priest, Rabbi, etc.
  2. As a result of being a religious worker.
  3. Through a Labor Certification.

The requirements for the first two options include:

  1. The alien must have been a member of a bona fide nonprofit religious organization for the two years immediately preceding the filing of the Petition.
  2. The alien must be coming to the United States to solely carry out the religious vocation or occupation.
  3. The alien must have been performing the vocation or religious occupation for at least the two-year period immediately preceding the filing of the petition.

A minister for immigration purposes is defined as an individual duly authorized by a recognized religious denomination to conduct religious worship and to perform other duties usually performed by authorized members of the clergy of that religion. A religious occupation is defined as an activity which relates to a traditional religious function. A religious vocation is defined as a calling to religious life evidenced by the demonstration of commitment practiced in the religious denomination, such as the taking of vows.

The petition is filed with the regional service center having jurisdiction over the religious institution's location. The appropriate Petition, along with the requisite supporting documentation is filed. Upon adjudication, the INS will either approve the Petition, request additional information, or deny the Petition. If the Petition is approved, an individual in the United States may immediately file I-485 applications for himself or herself, his or her spouse, and any minor children. If additional information is requested, an individual has 12 weeks in which to respond. If a Petition is denied, then an individual must decide whether to appeal the matter to the Administrative Appeals Unit. The advantage of this route over the labor certification procedure is that it saves approximately 18 months in processing time.

In the event that the person lacks the requisite two years of experience in the position immediately prior to the filing of the Petition, he or she might wish to consider an R Non-Immigrant Visa, which is a temporary worker visa valid for a maximum of five years. In order to qualify for this visa, a person must meet the following requirements:

  1. The alien must have been a member of the religious denomination for at least the two years immediately preceding the filing of the Petition.
  2. The alien must be coming to the United States for one of the following purposes:
    1. solely to carry on the vocation of a minister of the religious denomination;
    2. to work for the religious organization at the request of the organization in a professional capacity; or
    3. to work for the organization, or a bona fide organization which is affiliated with the religious denomination, at the request of the organization in a religious function.