Religious workers from any faith–ministers, workers in a traditional religious function, and those with a religious vocation–may qualify for permanent residence through their work.
Special Immigrant Religious Worker Requirements
- The sponsoring organization is bona fide religious organization with 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status, either by itself or through a group ruling. If the sponsoring organization was not granted tax-exempt status as a religious organization, it must be affiliated with a religious denomination.
- The religious worker applicant must have worked in a religious position for the religious denomination for the two years prior to filing.
- The applicant must be coming to work for at least 35 hours a week on average for the petitioner.
Special Immigrant Religious Worker Process
The process has two parts: an I-360 immigrant visa petition to show that the employee qualifies as a special immigrant religious worker, and an application for permanent residence (if in the United States) or immigrant visa (if abroad). The I-360 is filed first and the application for permanent residence afterwards, when a visa is available. Check EB4 on the Visa Bulletin for visa availability. (For most of the year, a visa is immediately available and there is no wait.)
The processing time for the I-360 petition is normally 2-4 months, unless there needs to be a site visit, in which case the petition could take much longer, depending on the schedule of the local office conducting the visit. All religious worker petitions are adjudicated by the California Service Center, and you can check their processing times online.
On the site visit, USCIS officers will come to the work place to ensure that it is a functioning religious organization. The officers will ask to see documents supporting the petition, such as proof of nonprofit status, religious literature, financial records, and payroll records. The site visit is often unannounced, but it is valid for five years, even for different petitions and religious workers.
Once the I-485 application for permanent residence is filed, the employee is eligible for a work permit. The employee’s spouse and unmarried children under 21 are also eligible to apply for permanent residence, whether they are in the United States or abroad. If they are in the United States, they are eligible for work permits as well.
More information about permanent residence as a religious worker can be found at the religious worker FAQ.