What to know about religious worker green cards
Churches, mosques, synagogues, and other religious organizations may be eligible to sponsor their R-1 religious workers or religious workers abroad for green cards to work in the United States on a permanent basis.
The religious worker green card process has two steps:
- The I-360 Petition
- The I-485 Petition OR immigrant visa application at a US Consulate
The I-360 Petition
A non-profit religious organization may file an I-360 petition to sponsor an employee or future employee for permanent residency when the employee is:
- A Minister (e.g., priest, rabbi, imam, pastor);
- Engaged in a Religious Occupation (e.g., catechism teacher, worship leader, missionary, religious novice, chaplain, religious translator); or
- Fulfilling their Religious Vocation (e.g., monk or nun who has taken permanent vows).
The religious organization may not file an I-360 petition for an employee who does administrative or support work (e.g., janitors, assistants, fundraisers, etc.) or who is primarily engaged in religious study.
The employee must be a member of the employer’s religious denomination for at least 2 years and must be employed by the denomination for 2 years immediately prior to filing the I-360.
The I-485 Petition
If the religious worker is in the USA with a valid visa, has a current I-360 priority date, and is otherwise eligible, they may apply for Adjustment of Status to obtain their green card. After the I-360 is approved, the religious worker will file the I-485 Adjustment of Status petition with USCIS along with an I-131 Advance Parole (travel permit) application and an I-765 work permit application. The I-131 and I-765 allow for work/travel while the green card case is pending.
IMPORTANT: the religious worker should not leave the USA before their I-131 Advance Parole is approved. If they travel prior to Advance Parole approval, the I-485 will be deemed abandoned and will be denied.
Unfortunately, a multi-year backlog on I-360 priority dates exists. This means that religious workers will have to wait multiple years after I-360 filing to file the I-485 petition. See here for more information on the backlog.
Applying for an Immigrant Visa at a US Consulate
If the religious worker is abroad, they will apply for an immigrant visa at the US Consulate closest to their place of residence. To apply for the immigrant visa, the religious worker must submit the DS-260 form, pay the immigrant visa fee, and complete a fingerprinting appointment, medical exam, and consular interview. An immigrant visa will not be issued to the religious worker until their I-360 priority date is current. As discussed above, this currently means a multi-year wait for a green card.
After the interview appointment, if the visa is approved, the religious worker will typically have 6 months to enter the USA.
Due to the backlogs associated with religious worker green cards, it is advisable to begin the green card process as early as possible. If you would like to discuss immigrant visa options for your religious organization, please schedule a consultation with us.