Special Immigrant Religious Workers
Ministers and non-ministers in religious vocations and occupations may immigrate to or adjust status in the U.S. for the purpose of performing religious work in a full-time compensated position.
Sunset Date for Non-Minister Religious Workers Program
On March 15, 2022, the president signed into law H.R. 2471, extending the EB-4 non-minister special immigrant religious worker program through Sept. 30, 2022. The law allows these workers to immigrate or adjust to permanent resident by that date. Non-minister special immigrant religious workers include those within a religious vocation or occupation engaged in a professional or non-professional capacity. The end date for the program also applies to accompanying spouses and children of these non-minister special immigrant religious workers.
Special immigrants entering the U.S. solely to carry on the vocation of a minister, and their accompanying spouses and children, are not affected by this date.
Religious Worker Expedite Requests
The decision to accommodate an expedite request is at USCIS’ sole discretion. We consider all expedite requests on a case-by-case basis. To increase efficiency in the review and processing of expedite requests, USCIS is not required to provide justification or otherwise respond regarding decisions on expedite requests.
A nonprofit organization whose request furthers the cultural or social interests of the United States may request expedited processing. We cannot process a request for expedited processing of a Form I-360 Special Immigrant Religious Worker petition until the petitioner has cleared their on-site visit requirement.
The request must demonstrate the urgent need to expedite the case based on the beneficiary’s specific role within the nonprofit in furthering cultural or social interests (as opposed to the organization’s role in furthering cultural or social interests). Examples may include a medical professional urgently needed for medical research related to a specific “social” U.S. interest (such as the COVID-19 pandemic or other socially impactful research or project). As another example, a religious organization may urgently need a beneficiary’s specific services and skill set to continue a vital social outreach program. In such instances, the religious organization must explain why the respective beneficiary is specifically needed, as opposed to pointing to a general shortage.
To qualify as a special immigrant religious worker, you must:
- Have been a member of a religious denomination that has a bona fide non-profit religious organization in the United States for at least two years immediately before filing a petition for this status with USCIS;
- Seek to enter the United States to work in a full time, compensated position in one of the following occupations:
- Solely as a minister of that religious denomination;
- A religious vocation either in a professional or nonprofessional capacity; or
- A religious occupation either in a professional or nonprofessional capacity;
- Be coming to work for either:
- A bona fide non-profit religious organization in the United States; or
- A bona fide organization that is affiliated with a religious denomination in the United States; and
- Have been working in one of the positions described above after the age of 14, either abroad or in the United States, continuously for at least two years immediately before the filing of a petition with USCIS. The prior religious work does not need to correspond precisely to the type of work you will perform. A break in the continuity of the work during the preceding two years will not affect eligibility so long as:
- You were still employed as a religious worker;
- The break did not exceed two years; and
- The nature of the break was for further religious training or sabbatical. However, you must have been a member of the petitioner’s denomination throughout the two years of qualifying employment.
Full-time work is an average of 35 hours per week. Compensated may mean salaried or unsalaried.
A U.S. employer, or you on your own behalf, must file Form I-360, Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant, to request special immigrant religious worker classification. Both you and the employing non-profit religious organization must satisfy the requirements listed below. If a petitioner believes that one of these requirements substantially burdens the organization’s exercise of religion, they may seek an exemption under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). A written request for the exemption should accompany the initial filing, and it must explain how the provision:
- Requires participation in an activity prohibited by a sincerely held religious belief; or
- Prevents participation in conduct motivated by a sincerely held religious belief.
The petitioner bears the burden of showing that they qualify for a RFRA exemption and must support the request with relevant documentation. We will decide exemption requests on a case-by-case basis.
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