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Religious Immigrant Workers

One of our cherished rights is our Constitutional grant of freedom to practice our own religion without interference by the government. We also do not allow our Nation or our States to take sides, favoring one religion over another. Christians, Muslins, Jews, and even atheists are free to follow their beliefs.
In Immigration Law, the fourth preference for permanent residence for Religious Ministers of religious workers is immediately available for permanent residence provided the applicant meets the following requirements:

  1. for 2 years prior to a petition, an applicant either in the U.S. or abroad, has been a member of a religious denomination that has a good faith, non profit, religious organization in the U.S. and the applicant wishes to enter the U.S. to work full time for pay, solely to be a Minister or to work in a religious calling; and
  2. has worked as a Minister or in a recognized religious occupation for 2 years preceding the application. If an applicant has worked in the U.S. without authorization in the past 2 years, it would not be considered part of the 2 years, if the unauthorized employment or overstay was for more than 180 days. If there was a breach in the two year period of a minister or religious worker who took religious trainings or a sabbatical, it would not impair the permanent residence application. The two year period must be for full time work or in full time religious study consistent with a Ministerial vocation. Spouses or accompanying children are included in the petitions.


A Minister or a religious worker may be admitted on a temporary basis for a 5 year continuous maximum period unless he/she resides outside the U.S. for one year within that 5 year period. The one year abroad would then permit a return for another 5 years. If the employment is seasonal or is for fewer than 6 months a year, the 5 year maximum period is not applicable. The initial period granted is for 2 ½ years, and then an extension may be granted for another 2 ½ years up to the maximum of 5 years. The applicant may only work for the religious organization that applied. Spouses and children are included in the R visa.

An attestation is required from the religious organization by an authorized representative that the employer is a good faith, tax exempt, non profit religious organization, and that the applicant beneficiary has been a member of the religious denomination for not less than 2 years and is a duly qualified minister or religious worker. The number of members of the organization and the number of employees must be stated in the application and a description of what are their various duties. The Immigration Service has the right to request verifications of this attestation. A certificate of ordination or like document and/or proof by transcripts of completed theological programs may be asked of the applicant. If the denomination has no prescribed studies, then the denomination’s requirements for ordination must be shown, and in what way the applicant beneficiary has fulfilled these requirements. The USCIS has the right to verify compensation by examining the budget of the religious organization, or if the position is unsalaried that there is a program instituted such as missionary work, sponsored by the denomination.

A minister is defined as fully authorized to conduct religious observance and worship as well as those duties related to being a minister such as sermonizing, and speaking at funeral observances, teaching at religious school and performing appropriate administrative duties.

Religious vocationals are required to demonstrate a lifetime commitment such as investitures, reciting vows, performing ceremonies attendant to a religious life such as that performed by nuns, monks, religious brothers and sisters as distinguished from secular members of the denomination.

Religious Denominations are groups or communities of believers, governed or administered under a common ecclesiastical government that regulates forms or worship, promulgates doctrines, and places where worship may take place.

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