Special Immigrant Religious Workers (EB-4)

1. Abstract

There are many who apply for permanent residency as special immigrant religious workers. However, USCIS review standard for special immigrant religious workers has gotten stricter than before. As a result, there are many cases that would have difficulties passing the USCIS review. That does not mean obtaining permanent residence through religious immigration is impossible. For example, a pastor may still apply under EB-4 Special Immigrant Religious Workers category although it is not as easy as before. For many EB-4 Special Immigrant Religious Workers cases, USCIS conducts a site visit to the religious organization. As long as documents for the site visit are thoroughly prepared, there is no reason to fear it.

2. Procedure

To apply for permanent residence under EB-4 Special Immigrant Religious Workers category, a petition (I-360) must first be submitted to USCIS. Once the petition is approved, application to adjust status to permanent residence (I-485) may be submitted to USCIS. A procedural difference between EB-4 Special Immigrant Religious Workers and Temporary Religious Worker (R-1) visa is that the petition must first be approved by USCIS before applying for permanent residence under EB-4.

3. Conditions

Below are 4 of the most important criteria that must be met to be eligible for EB-4 Special Immigrant Religious Workers.

First, the applicant must have been a member of a religious denomination for at least two years that has a bona fide non-profit religious organization in the United States and also have worked full-time for the denomination as a religious worker. Part-time or seasonal service cannot be considered as religious service for EB-4 Special Immigrant Religious Workers. In addition, the past two years of religious service must have been compensated and continuous. A major difficulty for religious workers who wish to apply for permanent residence is that if they enter the U.S. with a visitor visa (B-2), they cannot fulfill the requirement that the applicant must have continuously served and been compensated for the past two years.

Second, the duties that the applicant will perform must be essential to the religious denomination, for this is included in the criteria for USCIS’s assessment. USCIS will review the position the applicant will hold, the applicant’s experience, number of compensated personnel in the religious denomination, size of the denomination, and recent changes to the denomination.

Third, the applicant must be suitable for the position. Similar to Temporary Religious Worker (R-1) visa, the applicant must be qualified to perform the religious duties.

Fourth, the denomination must be religious, non-profit, and have the financial capability to compensate the religious worker. As with Temporary Religious Worker (R-1) visa, the religious worker must submit documentary evidence of the denomination, duties that will be performed, and applicant’s personal documents. The religious denomination that is sponsoring the application must show that it is able to provide the promised compensation to the applicant. The aforementioned criteria and required documents are a basic necessity and recently, USCIS have often requested complex additional documents regarding the religious denomination’s finances.

4. Considerations

Many people believe that when serving as a religious worker, they must only resolve their permanent residency through religious immigration. However, just because you are a religious worker does not mean you must apply for religious immigration. You can also receive permanent residence through other categories of employment-based permanent residency petitioned by a general religious organization, such as 2 nd preference employment-based immigration. Religious workers are special immigrants, but they are still subject to immigration laws. If a religious denomination does not sponsor under EB-4 Special Immigrant Religious Workers but instead sponsors a general employment permanent residency like a private company, USCIS will examine the religious denomination with the same standards as a private company. Therefore, the financial ability to pay the prevailing wage set by the Department of Labor is strictly screened. However, for large religious denominations, it may be possible to sponsor religious workers under general employment permanent residency like a private company.

Nowadays, it is difficult to obtain permanent residency through EB-4 Special Immigrant Religious Workers. As a result, it would be good to consider whether permanent residency can be sponsored under general employment permanent residency through a religious denomination rather than under EB-4 Special Immigrant Religious Worker.