Frequently Asked Questions
Handling Religious Immigration Matters for Clients Nationwide
As the go-to religious worker immigration firm in the nation, the Davis Legal Center delivers comprehensive representation and counsel to major religious organizations of all denominations, their ministers, and staff. We have the expertise your church needs.
You can find answers to some of our most common immigration questions below, but don’t hesitate to contact us for a consultation if you require further assistance.
Which religious workers are eligible for an R-1 visa?
A: To qualify for an R-1 visa, you must be a minister of religion, a member of a religious order pursuing his or her religious vocation or working in a traditional religious function. Church staff who do not fall into one of these three categories will not qualify for a visa. You also must have been part of the same religious denomination as your sponsoring employer for the previous two years.
What is a traditional religious function?
A: A traditional religious function does not have an exhaustive definition, so it is often left to the attorney to argue that a position qualifies. Some examples include liturgical workers, religious instructors, religious counselors, cantors, missionaries, etc. Staff positions such as janitors, clerks, and fund raisers will not qualify. Positions such as music ministers may need to be argued to USCIS – our firm has been successful with this in the past.
What does it mean to be part of the same religious denomination?
A: A religious denomination is a group of believers that shares a common ecclesiastical government and usually includes one or more of the following:
- A recognized common creed or statement of faith shared among all members;
- A common form of worship;
- A common formal code of doctrine or discipline;
- Common religious services and ceremonies;
- Common established places of religious worship or religious congregations; or
- Comparable indicia of a bona fide religious denomination.
Can an R-1 visa holder’s spouse and children come with them to the United States?
A: The spouse and unmarried children (under the age of 21) of an R-1 visa holder can also enter the United States temporarily if they obtain an R-2 visa.
How long can I remain inside the United States on an R-1 visa?
A: R-1 visa holders can live and work in the United States for up to five years. They can qualify for another 5-year R-1 period after departing the United States for one full year. Most religious workers, however, will apply for an EB-4 Special Immigrant Religious Worker green card if they intend to stay in the United States indefinitely.
Can an R-1 worker change employers?
A: Yes, an R-1 worker can change employers, but they cannot begin working for the new church until their new R-1 petition is approved.
What requirements to religious workers need to meet to qualify for an Eb-4 visa?
A: Applicants filing under the EB-4 religious worker category must show they have been a religious worker in the same denomination for the previous two years, that they are coming to work full time (35 hours/week) for an IRS religious nonprofit organization, and that they will be working as a minister, a member of a religious order (religious vocation), or in a traditional religious function (religious occupation).
How long can an Eb-4 religious worker live inside the United States?
A: If an EB-4 religious worker application is approved, the beneficiary will receive lawful permanent residence. This means he or she can live and work in the United States indefinitely. They can also change employers without needing to complete any additional immigration filings, and will qualify to apply for U.S. citizenship after 5 years.
Do R-1 visas qualify for expedited or premium processing?
A: Sponsors can premium process the R-1 visa application if they have already successfully completed a USCIS site inspection. Premium processing will provide a decision on the application within 15 calendar days.
What are the qualifications for an H-1B visa?
A: H-1B petitioners must have a job offer from a U.S.-based employer who will sponsor them. They also must have a U.S bachelor’s degree or higher, an equivalent foreign degree, or experience through positions held in their specialty occupation equivalent to the completion of such degree.
Which types of immigrants are eligible for an H-3 visa?
A: Immigrants entering the U.S. to receive training that is not available in their home country may qualify for an H-3 visa if their training is part of an approved training program. In most cases, they cannot complete any productive employment for the sponsoring organization.
What is proof of returning when applying for a B-1/B-2 visa?
A: Examples of “proof of return” include proof of employment, real estate or financial holdings, school enrollment, and other evidence that you have a permanent residence in your home country, and you don’t intend to abandon it after you obtain a B-1/B-2 visa.
What is the first step in the family green-card process?
A: Form I-130 (Petition for Alien Relative) must be filed with USCIS to establish that there is a valid family relationship between a U.S. citizen or green card holder and a person seeking a green card.
Are there income requirements for family-based green card applicants?
A: Yes, family-based green card applications must show there is a sufficient financial sponsor. This can be challenging for some religious workers if they do not meet the income guidelines (which is generally 125% above the federal poverty guideline based on your family size) or who receive in-kind income in lieu of a traditional salary. The Davis Legal Center can review your financial situation and help you create a successful sponsorship plan.
Can the I-130 and I-485 applications be filed together?
A: The I-130 and I-485 can be filed together (called concurrent filing) if you are applying as an immediate family member of a U.S. citizen. Other applicants may be able to concurrently file the forms if their visa priority category is current. The State Department releases an update on which visa categories are current every month. Applicants can contact the Davis Legal Center for help determining their category or view the State Department Visa Bulletin online here: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/legal/visa-law0/visa-bulletin.html.