Your church needs foreign religious workers – Yeah, we can do that!
With more than a decade of legal experience advising churches and religious workers across five continents, we can help your church find the visa you need. Ministers and religious workers face unique immigration challenges, whether they are coming for employment, training, to partake in religious services or getting married. Take advantage of our experience, and let us help you avoid the common pitfalls many churches and immigration attorneys don’t know. We work with all denominations and with clients nationwide.
- R-1/R-2 Nonimmigrant Religious Worker Visa
- Eb-4 Immigrant Visa (Religious Worker Green Card)
- H-3 Visa for Religious Trainees
- B-1/B-2 Visa for Religious Travel
- I-130/I-485 Marriage-Based Green Card
- H-1B Visa for Highly-Trained Religious Workers
R-1/R-2 Visa for Religious Workers
Davis Legal Center is committed to representing religious workers from all over the world who need help navigating the complex and ever-changing landscape of U.S. immigration law to fulfill their faith’s mission. Churches of all denominations can petition for eligible ministers, religious workers, and their families for temporary R-1 and R-2 nonimmigrant visas to enter the United States for up to five years.
How Do I Qualify for an R-1/R-2 Visa?
To qualify for the R-1 visa, applicants must have been a member of the petitioning church’s denomination for the previous two years and be coming to work at least 20 hours a week as a minister, as part of a religious order, or in a traditional religious function. The employing church will start this process by filing Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Religious Worker, with USCIS. Religious workers who are outside of the United States will also need to submit a DS-160 to a U.S. consulate and complete an interview prior to being granted admission into the United States.
An R-2 visa can be issued to the spouse and unmarried children of R-1 visa holders so they can accompany the R-1 visa holder during their stay in the U.S. To qualify for an R-2 visa, you must be married to an R-1 visa holder or be an unmarried child of an R-1 visa holder who is under the age of 21. Although R-2 visa holders have many of the same rights as the R-1 holder, they are not allowed to work in the U.S. and cannot stay in the U.S. longer than the R-1 holder.
What Are the Benefits of an R-1/R-2 Visa?
There are numerous benefits of obtaining an R-1/R-2 visa, including:
- R-1 visa holders can remain in the United States for two consecutive 30-month terms.
- R-1 visa holders can work for the petitioning church and travel anywhere in the U.S.
- R-1 visa holders can apply for a green card after working as a religious worker for 2 years.
- R-1 visa holders can change employers without leaving the United States.
- R-2 visa holders can temporarily live in the United States with their spouse or parent.
The EB-4 Religious Worker visa category is available to religious workers who are coming to the United States to work in their denomination at least 35 hours per week as ministers, members of a religious order, or in traditional religious functions. This immigration category is subject to annual renewal by the government if the applicant is a nonminister, so it is crucial applicants consult with an experienced religious worker attorney who can explain the proper timing. Successful applicants can live and work inside the United States indefinitely as lawful permanent residents and can ultimately apply for U.S. citizenship if they wish.
Davis Legal Center has a stellar reputation for providing clients across the U.S. and around the world with expert guidance and the dedicated services they need to increase their chances of having an immigration petition approved. The Davis Legal Center team is familiar with the numerous timelines for filing EB-4 visa petitions and is prepared to work vigorously to help you pursue your immigration goals.
EB-4 Religious Worker Visa Requirements
A U.S. nonprofit religious organization or affiliate must file Form I-360 with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The I-360 outlines the terms of employment, the job position requirements, and the religious worker’s qualifications. After the I-360 is approved, applicants will either apply for an immigrant visa at a U.S. consulate abroad if outside the United States or apply for adjustment of status if inside the United States.
Religious workers must prove they have belonged to the same religious denomination as the sponsoring U.S. church for the previous two years. They must also prove they have worked as a religious worker either abroad or inside the United States continuously for at least two years immediately before the I-360 was filed with USCIS. The sponsoring church must prove it is an IRS tax exempt religious organization and that it can adequately compensate the religious worker.
Eb-4 Visa (Religious Worker Green Card)
H-3 Visa for Religious Trainees
A visa option when your religious workers need training
The H-3 visa is a great option when your church needs to train foreign religious workers inside the United States for employment abroad. The Davis Legal Center is experienced at helping denomination leaders and “mother churches” bring small and large training teams into the United States to receive in-depth instruction before resuming religious employment in their home country. Religious trainees can also bring their spouses and minor children with them while they complete their training.
What Are the Requirements for an H-3 Visa?
Applicants cannot be placed in a position in which U.S. citizen workers are regularly employed and cannot be productively employed unless it is necessary to the specified training and will benefit the H-3 holder in their pursuit of a career outside the U.S.
Beneficiaries must also meet the following requirements to obtain an H-3 visa:
- Have a foreign residence they intend to return to after their training is complete
- The length of the training program does not exceed two years
- The instruction and training they intend to receive is not available in their home country
- The overall training must benefit the immigrant in pursuing a career outside the U.S.
The U.S. religious organization must provide the following as part of the application:
- A detailed description of the structured training program, including the number of hours per week the trainee will be in a classroom and the number of hours per week that the trainee will be involved in on-the-job training (if any)
- A summary of the trainee’s previous training and experience
- Statements explaining why the applicant needs the training, why it is unavailable in their home country, how the training will help the applicant pursue a career outside the U.S., and who will pay for the training without the petitioner permanently employing the trainee
Your choice when your temporary minister, missionaries or parishioners need to come to the United States
B-1/B-2 visas are for foreign visitors who want to temporarily enter the United States for business, tourism, or a combination of both purposes. For churches and religious workers, the B-1 visa provides a simplified path for several short-term religious activities:
– Ministers who are engaging in an evangelical tour or who are exchanging pulpits with a U.S. counterpart may qualify for a B-1 visa instead of going through the more laborious process of obtaining an R-1 visa.
– Missionaries who traveling to the United States to proselytize, provide instruction, aid the elderly, or engage in similar activities may also qualify for a B-1 visa if they will not be receiving remuneration.
– Foreigners who wish to travel to the United States to participate in a voluntary services program may qualify if they are members of a recognized religious organization and will not receive remuneration from a U.S. source.
The B-2 visa provides an option for parishioners who want to travel to your church to participate in religious services, tour religious cultural sites, or engage in other tourism travel.
Eligibility Requirements for a B-1/B-2 Visa
To be eligible for a B-1/B-2 visitor visa, you must demonstrate the purpose for your stay in the U.S. and prove that you will only be in the country temporarily. You can establish the purpose of your stay with a personal statement and documentation from third parties. This will usually entail getting a letter of support from the U.S. church, having a planned travel itinerary, and proving you have sufficient financial resources to pay for the cost of your trip. B-1/B-2 applicants must also prove that they have strong social and economic ties to their foreign residence and that they do not intend to abandon it after they are approved for the visa.
What Documents Do I Need to Submit for a B-1/B-2 Visa?
B-1/B-2 visas do not require employer sponsorship or an approved petition. Applicants apply directly with a U.S. consulate abroad. You will need to make a visa interview appointment with the U.S. embassy or consulate with jurisdiction over your permanent residence. You will also have to submit the following documents:
- Form DS-160 (Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application)
- A valid passport with an expiration date at least six months beyond your intended stay
- Passport-style photos
- An invitation letter from your relative or church in the U.S.
- Proof you have sufficient funds to cover the trip and your living expenses in the U.S.
- Form I-134 (Affidavit of Support), signed and notarized if a third party will provide financial support for your visit
- Proof of travel arrangement, such as round-trip tickets
- Evidence of homeownership or other real estate properties you own in your home country
- Monthly bank statements and balance verification letters
- Proof of regular income, medical insurance, and other documents that can establish your binding economic ties
- Proof of other family members not traveling with you
- Copies of your previous visas, approval/denial notices for extension requests, and/or boarding passes to prove that you have not violated any immigration regulations on your previous visits to the U.S.
- A cover letter explaining the purpose of your trip and any specific issues
B-1/B-2 Visa for Religious Travel
I-130/I-485 Marriage-Based Green Card
Helping ministers and religious workers when they get married
Most religious workers will enter the United States using some type of work visa, but they have more immigration options if they marry a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident while in the country. U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents who want to sponsor a qualified relative for permanent residence in the United States must first submit Form I-130 (Petition for Alien Relative) to establish that they have a valid family relationship.
When it comes to obtaining a marriage visa, the I-130 petition must be filed to prove that the marriage certificate is legally valid. This step also requires applicants to submit joint bank account statements, joint insurance documents, and photos together to prove that the marriage is “authentic.”
What Is Form I-485?
The next step in the family-based green card process after you submit Form I-130 is to file Form I-485 (Application for Adjustment of Status). To qualify for an adjustment of status, the immigrant must be physically present in the United States and entered the country legally.
For marriage green cards, the I-485 must be filed to prove the foreign spouse is eligible for U.S. permanent residency. If the foreign husband or wife is present in the United States, then they can usually file the I-130 and I-485 petitions at the same time.
FAQ: I-30/I-485 Petitions
Question #1: How long does the I-130/I-485 process take?
A: The processing time depends on the family relationship and which USCIS field office receives the petition. Marriage-based applicants can usually expect to have their cases processed in 12 to 24 months, but more distant relatives may have to wait for up to 20 years or more. Many marriage applicants can remain inside the United States while their application is pending and will receive employment authorization so they can work while they are waiting for their green card.
Question #2: What supporting documents are required to be submitted with the I-130 petition?
A: Sponsors must submit proof that they are a U.S. citizen or green card holder, that a legally valid relationship exists, and that the relationship is not fraudulent. They must also submit proof of any name changes for themselves and/or the person seeking the green card, as well as proof of nationality for the person seeking the green card.
Question #3: What are the common reasons that I-130/I-485 petitions are denied?
A: Although immigration petitions can be denied for several reasons, common reasons that USCIS may deny your visa include mistakes on the application, failing to submit critical documents, and failure to demonstrate the appropriate family relationship.
An alternative visa for highly-skilled religious workers
Although most religious workers will use the R-1 visa category, there are times it may not be the best fit. For example, ministers and religious workers who have not been members of the sponsoring church’s religious denomination for two years will not qualify. The H-1B visa provides a solution for religious workers who hold university degrees. It allows the religious worker to remain in the United States for up to six years, and visa holders can change to an R-1 visa or apply for an EB-4 Religious Worker green card during this time.
The H1-B visa process can get complicated, and one mistake can make you miss the opportunity to apply. There are only 85,000 H-1B visas available each fiscal year, and 20,000 of these visas are reserved for people with master’s degrees or higher levels of education from U.S colleges and universities. These visa caps have been reached in recent years, so it is imperative to consult with a seasoned lawyer who can walk you through the application process and explain what to expect as your case moves forward.
Our three most common H-1B questions
Question #1: Are there exemptions to the H-1B visa cap limit?
A: An employee is generally exempt from the H-1B numerical limitations if they previously received an H-1B visa or were granted H-1B status. Employers are also exempt from the cap if they are a higher education institution, non-profit organization associated with a higher education institution, or a non-profit research organization. Most churches will not qualify as cap exempt employers, but the Davis Legal Center can advise on your best solution.
Question #2: Can an H-1B visa be transferred to another employer?
A: Under the American Competitiveness in the Twenty-First Century Act (AC21), an employee who is presently employed in H-1B status can transition their H-1B to a different employer. Workers can even start working for the new employer while their application is pending one the petition has been received by USCIS and they have received their I-797 Notice of Action receipt.
Question #3: Can the spouse or children of an H-1B holder live in the United States?
A: The spouse and minor children of an H-1B religious worker can legally live in the United States if they obtain H-4 status. Some H-4 visa holders may even qualify to receive an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) and work while inside the country.