Special Immigrant Religious Worker Law Extended Through September, 2012
Published: October 29, 2009

Religious workers seeking to live and work in the U.S. have historically had generous visa options available for both temporary (nonimmigrant visa) and permanent (green card) stays in US. For temporary stays, the R-1 visa allows for entry for an initial term of three years, and is extendable for two additional years. For religious workers seeking permanent residence, the process is fairly straightforward, although the law governing the process for most workers (excluding ministers) has expired every three years, such that Congress and the President for more than the past decade have been forced to act to reenact the law – which is what took place just this week. So now, the law allowing for permanent status for religious workers, ministers and non-ministers alike, is effective through September 30, 2012.

Basic Requirements:

The petitioning institution seeking to facilitate the worker’s permanent resident status must be certifiable as a “501(c)(3)” not for profit religious institution, under the Internal Revenue Code. The organization must be able to document their ability to compensate the worker, and to establish that the position being offered is indeed bona fide. Further, the institution must be organized around a religious denomination or some established non-denominational religious tradition.

The worker must be either a minister (or an official similarly ordained and authorized to conduct worship in their religion) or engaged in a religious occupation or vocation, such as religious teacher or counselor, liturgical worker, nun or monk. Further, documentation must be presented to confirm that the worker a) has been a member of the institution’s denomination for at least two years preceding the filing of the petition, b) has engaged in their religious occupation, profession or vocation for at least a continuous 2-year period AND c) that the worker will continue in such a role prospectively. The qualifying membership and employment period can take place either in or outside the U.S.

With relatively straightforward requirements governing these types of petitions, immigration authorities have discovered rampant fraud in this area of immigration filings over the past two decades. Fabricated religious certifications and work experience letters along with fictional institutions have led Department of Homeland Security to closely scrutinize most every application and supporting documents, and investigate the bona fides of most every petitioning organization.

Further, a worker seeking a benefit either by way of a nonimmigrant or permanent visa will have to be ready to document that their qualifications for the position at issue were established by way of formal education and/or training.

In sum, religious worker petitions must be well documented, and the petitioning organizations must be prepared to be visited by immigration officials to confirm that the institution and job offer are legitimate.

Copyright © 2009, By Law Offices of Richard Hanus, Chicago, Illinois