Changes soon will go into effect for a
unique visa program that allows religious workers to immigrate to the U.S. or
adjust their status to obtain legal permanent residency. This is an
employment-based, fourth-preference visa program that permits both ministers
and non-ministers to enter the U.S. to perform full-time, paid religious work.
The federal government historically has restricted the number of non-minister
religious workers able to obtain visas under this program to 5,000 per fiscal
year. However, the federal government has placed no such restrictions on
ministers and their spouses. As of September 30, 2019, the non-minister program
is scheduled to end altogether, following a final extension of the program that
President Trump signed on February 15, 2019.
As a result of the expiration of this visa
program, non-ministers who want to immigrate to the U.S. or seek a green card
must do so before September 30, 2019. This sunset date also applies to spouses
and children who accompany non-minister religious workers to the U.S. Ministers
who hold these visas are not affected by this date.
Several different criteria affect which
religious workers qualify for this program. For instance, workers must meet the
following eligibility requirements:
must have been a member of a bona fide religious group for at least two years
before their applications and continuously be engaged in religious work as an
religious groups must be non-profit organizations in the U.S. or organizations
affiliated with religious denominations in the U.S.
religious work in the U.S. must be full-time, averaging at least 35 hours per
week, and paid
Workers can be
employed in a professional or non-professional capacity
immigration lawyers of Peek
& Toland have handled the immigration cases of countless
individuals and businesses facing immigration-related issues. We are here to
protect your rights and advocate on your behalf to get the outcome that you are
seeking. Call our office today at (512) 474-4445 to set up an appointment with
our immigration attorneys.
Many people are unaware that religious workers can qualify for short-term R visas to work in the United States.
According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), an R-1 visa holder is a foreign national who arrives in the United States to be employed as a minister or in another religious vocation on a temporary basis. It’s a short-term visa. The religious workers who benefit from R visas must work at least 20 hours a week. They must be employed by:
A religious body or organization authorized by a group tax exemption holder to use its group tax exemption; or
A non-profit religious organization based her in the United States;
A non-profit religious organization that has an affiliation with a religious denomination in the United States.
As a qualifying religious worker, you can work in the United States for the R sponsor. The worker’s sponsor files a visa petition with the immigration authorities.
You are not able to change jobs in the United States, even if you want to move to another religious job. You must get a new visa first.
It takes a considerable amount of time to issue an initial R-1 visa. Part of the process involves a site visit. However, premium processing is available to organizations if there has been a successful site visit in the previous five years.
The holder of an R visa can travel to and from the United States or stay continuously as long as his or her R visa stamp and status remain valid.
Your initial R visa will be granted for up to 30 months. However, R visa recipients have the ability to stay considerably longer. Extensions are available for up to five years. If you spend time outside the U.S. this does not count toward the maximum stay in the country. However, the R-1 worker must be able to prove the length of the absence.
A spouse and unmarried children under the age of 21 may be granted R-2 visas to accompany the primary visa holder, but they may not accept employment in the United States.
R-1 visas can be issued both to members of the clergy and to lay religious workers.
R-2 Visas for Family Members of R-1 Visa Holders
Spouses or unmarried children under 21 of R-1 visa holders may qualify for an R-2 visa to join the religious worker over the duration of his or her stay in the United States.
There is no cap on the number of annual visas issued under the R-2 category.
To obtain an R-1 visa, your parent or spouse has to be a qualifying religious worker who has been a member of a legitimate religious denomination for the previous two years.
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