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Important Changes to Religious Worker Visa Program

Immigrants who work in a religious vocation or occupation may be able to immigrate to the United States., or adjust their status, under a special religious worker immigrant visa.

In order to be eligible for this visa, you must be a member of a non-profit, religious organization that has existed in the United States for at least two years; seek to work a full time, compensated position; and have worked in the position (either abroad or in the United States) continuously for at least two years immediately prior to filing for the visa. A full list of the criteria for the immigrant religious worker visa can be found here. There are two important changes to the religious worker visa program which may affect applicants.

First, after September 30, 2017, non-minister special immigrant religious workers will no longer be eligible to apply for the program. Please note that this does not affect ministers (or their spouses/children) who may still apply after this date.
Second, USCIS has recently rescinded a regulation which required that the work performed by an applicant for the last two years in the United States must be legally authorized and the applicant in legal status. USCIS’ decision comes after the United States 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals found in 2015 in favor of a Brazilian Pastor who filed for this visa after working illegally in the United States for 17 years. His initial applications were rejected due to his status in the country and the fact that his work was not legally authorized. However, the Court sided with the Pastor, ruling that his illegal status did not disqualify him from receiving the visa. USCIS has accepted the Court’s decision and has rescinded its regulation.

If you are a religious worker and you believe you meet the qualifications for the visa, regardless of your status in this country, contact our immigration attorney, Paul H. Schultz. Mr. Schultz works out of both our Philadelphia and New Jersey offices, and can be reached by calling (215) 567-1530 or via email at [email protected]. Members of our office are fluent in Portuguese, Spanish, and Khmer. Language accommodations can be made for immigrants of all origins.


Published September 27, 2017

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