Religious organizations in the United States may require the services of a foreign national to fill a role as a minister, in a religious vocation, or in a religious occupation. Religious organizations may sponsor religious workers on a temporary or long-term basis. Because immigration law is complex, and policies are subject to change, religious organizations and their employees benefit from experienced immigration guidance when navigating the visa sponsorship process.
The R-1 nonimmigrant religious worker category is available for a foreign national who has been a member of a religious denomination that has a good faith, nonprofit, religious organization in the United States, for the two years immediately preceding the filing of the R-1 petition, and who seeks to enter the United States for an initial period not to exceed 30 months to perform work as a minister, in a religious occupation, or in a religious vocation.
Generally, the process of obtaining R-1 classification for an employee involves filing of an R-1 petition with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Although the maximum initial period of R-1 status that can be granted is 30 months, the religious organization may submit a petition to USCIS on behalf of the foreign national requesting a 30-month extension of R-1 status. The R-1 category is a temporary category, meaning that both the religious organization sponsor and the individual must recognize that it is valid only for the period allowed. The R-1 status does not permit indefinite stay in the U.S.
The permanent residency process for religious workers involves the filing by the employer of an I-360 immigrant visa petition with USCIS. The employer must show its intent to offer the foreign national a permanent position as a religious worker (minister, vocation, or religious occupation), demonstrate that the job is within one of the religious worker categories, and show that it can provide the offered salary and/or financial support. The employer must establish that the foreign national qualifies for the religious worker category, and for the two-year period immediately preceding filing of the I-360 petition, has been a member of the religious denomination and has been employed full-time as a religious worker.
After USCIS approval of the I-360 petition, the foreign employee and his/her derivative family members, either apply for immigrant visas at a U.S. Consulate abroad or submit applications to USCIS for adjustment of status to lawful permanent residence. The last step results in the issuance to the employee and any derivative family members of employment-based immigrant visas or permanent resident cards, also known as "green cards".
Our attorneys work with religious organizations and religious workers to coordinate the petition process and necessary supporting documents.
Attorneys Kelley Chenhalls and Jennifer Nissen have concentrated their practice in immigration law, including assistance for religious workers and their employers, for well over a decade. Chenhalls Nissen S.C., based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, assists individuals and religious organizations in the United States with their immigration and visa needs.
We offer our clients up-to-date guidance on visa and immigration law, and take pride in our dedicated personal service and responsiveness to our clients’ needs. We invite you to learn more about our team, our services, and to contact Chenhalls Nissen to schedule a consultation. We look forward to working with you.