Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Religious Worker Path to a Green Card

If you work for a recognized religious organization, either as a minister or a religious worker, you might qualify for a green card as a special immigrant. You can apply for your green card as a minister or religious worker from inside the U.S.—if you are in lawful status and not working without authorization—or from abroad. You start the process by filing an I-360 petition on your own or through your employer. Whether you or your employer files the petition, the prospective U.S. employer must submit certain documentary evidence, including an attestation showing that certain requirements have been met regarding the organization, its history of filing this type of petition and the position and salary.

Now, the immigration regulations define a “minister” as someone who is fully authorized by a religious denomination to conduct religious activities, such as a minister, priest, rabbi, imam, ordained deacon, or Buddhist monk. A “religious worker” is defined as someone who is in a religious vocation or occupation and is authorized to perform normal religious duties, such as religious instructors, religious counselors, missionaries, religious broadcasters, workers in religious hospitals and cantors. Purely non-religious workers and volunteers are not included in this definition. Over the years the regulations defining religious occupations have changed and there has been litigation over varying interpretations. Someone attempting to immigrate under this category would be well advised to consult with an immigration attorney about their specific circumstances.

To qualify for a green card as a minister or religious worker, for at least 2 years immediately before filing the visa petition, you must have been a member of a religious denomination that has a bona fide, nonprofit, religious organization in the U.S.

Also, you must be seeking to come to the U.S. to work full time (35 hours) in a paid position, purely to carry on your 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.

Finally, you must have been working as a minister or religious worker—abroad or lawfully in the U.S.—for at least 2 years immediately prior to filing the visa petition. (There can be breaks in the 2-year period but only in certain situations. And, unauthorized employment during the 2-year period stops the 2-years from accruing but it can be restarted again.)

Because of a recent court decision, immigrants can no longer file both the visa petition for a special immigrant visa as a religious worker and the green card application at the same time. This applies specifically to the religious worker classification. Currently, any green card application (I-485) that is based on a special immigrant petition (I-360) for a special immigrant religious worker must be filed only after you have an approved I-360 petition.

In addition, currently, all religious workers (not ministers) must enter the U.S. with a valid immigrant visa or adjust to permanent resident status (have an approved I-485) before September 30, 2012. This date might be extended in the future, but this is the current law.

37 comments:

  1. Very interesting, I had no idea that religious workers could get a green card like this. I know that you'd probably need to talk with an immigration attorney, first, but are there any qualifications on the types of work accepted?

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  2. Hi Tom,

    Thanks for your comment on my blog. There are strict requirements for the many different kinds of employment-based visas available. Feel free to call me at (206) 414-1626 to discuss your particular situation. Or, if you are not in the U.S., we can communicate via Google chat. To set up a chat, please send an email to me at jon@reingoldlegal.com.

    Regards,
    Jon

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    1. So if you qualify for a green card as religious minister, but the church wants you to start as soon as possible, what do you do? I'm in Canada, the congregation in Washington, but they won't want to wait several months for the approval of the I-360

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    2. So if you qualify for a green card as religious minister, but the church wants you to start as soon as possible, what do you do? I'm in Canada, the congregation in Washington, but they won't want to wait several months for the approval of the I-360

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