Applying for a Religious Visa in Los Angeles

This type of visa will allow you to obtain the Green Card for you, your spouse and your unmarried children under 21 years old.

This visa for the Green Card is similar to the R-1 temporary religious visa, but is more difficult to obtain. Therefore, if you want to come to the United States to perform duties in a religious organization, you might consider first coming on the R-1 temporary visa, and then if appropriate, later applying for the Religious Visa for the Green Card.

This visa does not require the lengthy Labor Certification process (which could take several years), and therefore, is considerably quicker to obtain than many other types of Green Cards.  This way of getting the Green Card may not be available in the very near future. It is expected to ‘sunset’ or expire. Unless Congress extends the provisions of law allowing this visa, it will no longer be available.

1.a. For at least 2 years immediately preceding the filing of the petition, the person “has been a member of a religious denomination having a bona fide, nonprofit, religious organization in the United States,” and
1.b. The person seeks to enter the U.S.
– to work full time (35 hours) in a compensated position,
§ solely to carry on his or her vocation as a minister or
– to work for a bona fide, nonprofit religious organization in the U.S. or its affiliate in the U.S.; and
1.c. The person has been working as a minister or in a religious vocation or occupation, either abroad or in lawful status in the U.S. for at least the 2–year period immediately preceding the filing of the petition.
(1) If any part of the 2-year period was unauthorized employment in the U.S., it interrupts the 2-year period, but the 2 years may be restarted. Once the 2 years is established and the I-360 is approved, if the applicant is out of status less than 180 days at that point, he or she may adjust under INA §245(k). (2) The 2-year prior religious work need not correspond precisely to the type of work to be performed.
(3) Break in 2-Year Period—The applicant may have a break in the 2-year period immediately preceding the filing of the petition as long as: (i) the applicant was still employed as a religious worker; (ii) the break did not exceed 2 years; (iii) the nature of the break was for further religious training or for sabbatical that did not involve unauthorized work in the U.S.; and (iv) the applicant was a member of the petitioner’s denomination throughout the 2 years of qualifying employment.
(a) Studying—F-1 studies in the U.S. may be considered carrying on the vocation “if it can be demonstrated that such study is consistent with the … ministerial vocation and provided that the [minister] continues to perform the duties of a minister of religion.”
(b) Beyond Applicant’s Control—A significant break in employment may also be allowed if it was beyond the person’s control.
(4) Full Time or Continuous—The religious work for the two prior years must be continuous, and some cases support the position that it need not be full-time for the 2-year period.
(5) Compensation to Prove 2 years of Prior Experience
(6) Compensation for New Position—The religious worker must be coming to the U.S. to work in a compensated position. Compensation can be salaried or nonsalaried.
2. Includes spouses and children accompanying or following to join.
3. Definitions—
3.a. Minister—Defined as: (1) fully authorized and trained under denomination to conduct religious worship and other duties usually performed by members of the clergy; (2) is not a lay preacher; (3) performs activities with a rational relationship to the religious calling of minister; and (4) works solely as a minister in the U.S., which may include administrative duties incident to position.
3.b. Religious Worker—An individual engaged in, and according to the denomination’s standards, qualified for a religious occupation or vocation, whether or not in a professional capacity, or as a minister.
3.c. Petitioning Religious Organization in the U.S.—Defined as an IRC §501(c)(3) religious organization or one that is part of a group that has received a §501(c)(3) designation. The organization must possess a currently valid determination letter from the IRS. However, the new regulations specifically require that the “church” show that it is a nonprofit and certain IRS classifications short of §501(c)(3), such as IRC §501(d), are insufficient.
3.d. Religious Denomination—A religious group or community of believers that is governed or administered under a common type of ecclesiastical government and includes one or more of the following: (i) a common creed or statement of faith; (ii) a common form of worship; (iii) a common formal code of doctrine and discipline; (iv) common religious services and ceremonies; (v) common established places of religious worship; or (vii) comparable indicia.
3.e. Affiliated with a Religious Denomination—Organization that is closely associated with a religious denomination and which has §501(c)(3) status and a currently valid determination from the IRS confirming such exemption
3.f. Religious Occupation—
– Duties primarily relate to a traditional religious function and recognized as a religious occupation within the denomination;
– Duties must primarily relate to and clearly involve inculcating or carrying out the religious creed and beliefs;
– Duties do not include primarily administrative or support such as “janitors, maintenance workers, clerical employees, fund raisers, persons solely involved in the solicitation of donations, or similar position,” but limited administrative duties incidental to religious functions are permissible;
– Religious study or training for religious work does not constitute a religious occupation but a religious worker may pursue study or training incident to status. and
– Persons who “sell literature” may or may not qualify.