If you have a full-time job offer as a minister, in a religious vocation, or in a religious occupation in the U.S., you may qualify for an EB-4 visa for Special Immigrant Religious Workers. This is an immigrant visa, meaning that you can apply later on for a green card (lawful permanent resident status). And, your spouse and unmarried children under 21 can accompany you on this visa and may also qualify for green cards.
First, be aware that the rules will soon be changing for religious workers who are not ministers. Non-ministers must immigrate by Sept. 30, 2019, if they are using the EB-4 Special Immigrant Religious Workers visa. After that, non-ministers and their dependents will no longer be allowed to use this visa.
According to the USCIS, non-minister religious workers are “those within a religious vocation or occupation engaged in either a professional or non-professional capacity.” To be considered a minister, you must provide documentation of your ordination, your denomination’s acceptance of your ordination, and your education at a recognized theological institution, or equivalent evidence.
There is also a numerical limit of 5,000 for non-minister religious workers. There is no cap for those considered ministers.
Eligibility for an EB-4 religious worker visa
In order to qualify for this visa, you must generally:
- Be a member, for at least two years immediately before petitioning for the visa, of a religious denomination that already has a bona fide, non-profit religious organization in the U.S.
- Have a job offer for a full-time, compensated position as a minister, in a vocation or in a religious occupation. Full-time means averaging 35 hours per week. Compensated does not necessarily mean salaried but can include in-kind compensation such as room and board.
- Your job offer is either with a bona fide, non-profit religious organization in the U.S. or a bona fide organization affiliated with a religious denomination in the U.S.
- Have been working as a minister, in a vocation or as a religious worker for at least two years immediately before petitioning. There are some circumstances where a break in the continuity of your work is acceptable.
Substantial documentation from both the petitioner and the hiring organization is required for this visa. For example, the hiring organization will be asked to provide proof of its tax exemption, its religious nature, its plan to compensate the religious worker.
The petitioning worker will be asked to provide, for example, evidence of at least two years’ membership in the religious organization or denomination, evidence of the worker’s qualifications, and proof of at least two years’ prior religious work.
Also, if the requirements for obtaining an EB-4 religious worker visa represent a substantial burden on your or your organization’s exercise of religion, you may be able to obtain an exemption under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Whether you are considered a minister or have another religious vocation or job, the EB-4 religious worker visa may be right for you. If you would like to apply, contact Yew Immigration Law Group. These visas do require substantial documentation, and time is short for non-ministers. We have years of experience helping religious workers and others immigrate to the U.S.