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Special Immigrant Religious Workers

Ministers and non-ministers in religious vocations and occupations may immigrate to or adjust status in the United States for the purpose of performing religious work in a full-time compensated position. 

The special immigrant religious worker category is one of several employment-based fourth-preference (EB-4) visa classifications. For additional information about other EB-4 classifications, see the link to the left.

Non-Minister Religious Worker Cap

There is a statutory numerical limit (or “cap”) of 5,000 workers who may be issued a special immigrant non-minister religious worker visa during each fiscal year. There is no cap for special immigrant religious workers entering the United States solely for the purpose of carrying on the vocation of a minister.

Sunset Date for Non-Minister Religious Workers

On September 28, 2012, President Obama signed Public Law 112-176 extending the non-minister special immigrant religious worker program through September 30, 2015. The law allows these workers to immigrate or adjust to permanent resident by that date. Non-minister special immigrant religious workers include those within a religious vocation or occupation engaged in either a professional or non-professional capacity.

The sunset date also applies to accompanying spouses and children of these non-minister special immigrant religious workers. Special Immigrants entering the United States solely for the purpose of carrying on the vocation of a minister, and their accompanying spouses and children, are not affected by this sunset date.

Eligibility Criteria

To qualify as a special immigrant religious worker, the foreign national must:

  1. Have been a member of a religious denomination that has a bona fide non-profit religious organization in the United States for at least 2 years immediately \before the filing of a petition for this status with USCIS.
  2. Seek to enter the United States to work in a full time, compensated position in one of the following occupations:
    • Solely as a minister of that religious denomination;
    • A religious vocation either in a professional or nonprofessional capacity;
    • A religious occupation either in a professional or nonprofessional capacity; or
    • A bona fide non-profit religious organization in the United States. 
  3. Be coming to work for either:
    • A bona fide non-profit religious organization in the United States; or
    • A bona fide organization that is affiliated with the religious denomination in the United States.
  4. Have been working in one of the positions described above after the age of 14, either abroad or in lawful immigration status in the United States, continuously for at least 2 years immediately before the filing of a petition with USCIS. The prior religious work need not correspond precisely to the type of work to be performed. A break in the continuity of the work during the preceding two years will not affect eligibility so long as:
    • The foreign national was still employed as a religious worker;
    • The break did not exceed two years; and
    • The nature of the break was for further religious training or for sabbatical that did not involve unauthorized work in the United States. However, the foreign national must have been a member of the petitioner’s denomination throughout the two years of qualifying employment.

Note: Full time work is an average of 35 hours per week. Compensated may mean salaried or unsalaried.

A U.S. employer, or the worker on his or her own behalf, must file Form I-360, Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant, to request special immigrant religious worker classification. Both the employing non-profit religious organization and the religious worker must satisfy the requirements listed below.

Supporting Documents Required for the Religious Organization

Supporting Documents Required for the Religious Worker

 Proof of tax-exempt status
  • If the religious organization has its own individual IRS 501(c)(3) letter, provide a currently valid determination letter from the IRS showing that the organization is tax-exempt
  • If the organization is recognized as tax-exempt under a group tax exemption, provide a currently valid IRS group tax-exemption determination letter
  • If the organization is affiliated with the religious denomination, provide:
    • A currently valid determination letter from the IRS showing that the organization is tax-exempt;
    • Documentation that establishes the religious nature and purpose of the organization;
    • Organizational literature; and
    • A religious denomination certification, part of Form I-360 (see the links to the right).

Proof of salaried or non-salaried compensation

  • Verifiable evidence showing how the organization will compensate the religious worker, including specific monetary or in-kind compensation. Evidence may include:
    • Past evidence of compensation for similar positions;
    • Budgets showing monies set aside for salaries, leases, etc.;
    • Evidence that room and board will be provided to the religious worker;
    • If IRS documentation, such as IRS Form W-2 or certified tax returns, is available, it must be provided; and
    • If IRS documents are not available, explain why and provide comparable, verifiable documentation
 Proof of membership
  •  Evidence that the religious worker is a member of a religious denomination having a bona fide non-profit religious organization in the United States for at least 2 years immediately before the filing of Form I-360

Evidence to establish that the religious worker is qualified to perform the duties of the offered position. If the religious worker will work as a minister, provide:

  • A copy of the religious worker’s certificate of ordination or similar documents
  • Documents showing acceptance of the religious worker’s qualification as a minister in the religious denomination, as well as evidence that he or she completed any course of prescribed theological education at an accredited theological institution normally required or recognized by that religious denomination. Include transcripts, curriculum, and documentation that establishes that the theological institution is accredited by the denomination
  • If the denomination does not require a prescribed theological education, provide:
    • The religious denomination’s requirements for ordination to minister;
    • A list of duties performed by virtue of ordination;
    • The denomination’s levels of ordination, if any; and
    • Evidence of the religious worker’s completion of the denomination’s requirements for ordination

Proof of previous religious work (either abroad or in lawful immigration status in the United States)

If the requisite previous employment was in the United States and:

  • The religious worker received salaried compensation, provide documents that show he or she received a salary. This may include, but is not limited to, Form W-2 or certified copies of filed income tax returns reflecting such work and compensation for the prior employment.
  • The religious worker received non-salaried compensation:
    • If IRS documents are available, provide IRS documentation of the non-salaried compensation; or
    • If IRS documents are not available, explain why and provide comparable, verifiable documentation
  • If the religious worker received no salary but supported him or herself and any dependents, provide verifiable documents to show how support was maintained. This may include, but is not limited to, audited financial statements, financial institution records, brokerage account statements, trust documents signed by an attorney, or other verifiable evidence
If the requisite previous experience was gained abroad, provide comparable evidence of the religious work

Family of EB-4 Special Immigrant Religious Workers

A special immigrant religious worker’s spouse and unmarried children under the age of 21 may accompany or follow to join the principal religious worker or adjust status in the United States. For more information please refer to the “Green Card” link to the right. 

Last Reviewed/Updated: 02/21/2013