Chapter 1 - Purpose and Background
The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) provides separate immigration classifications for religious workers depending on whether they seek to work in the United States on a permanent or a temporary basis.Noncitizens working in the United States temporarily as a minister or in a religious vocation or occupation are eligible for the nonimmigrant religious worker (R-1) classification.
In 1990, Congress created new immigration classifications for religious workers, including the R-1 nonimmigrant classification and a special immigrant religious worker classification.
In 2005, the USCIS Office of Fraud Detection and National Security (FDNS) conducted a Benefit Fraud Assessment of the special immigrant religious worker program by randomly selecting and reviewing pending and approved cases. As a result, USCIS issued a report finding significant fraud in the use of this classification. This led USCIS to reconsider how it administered the special immigrant religious worker program.
In 2008, USCIS promulgated regulations that added requirements to establish eligibility for the special immigrant and nonimmigrant religious worker programs. In part, the regulations introduced a requirement that a beneficiary’s prospective employer submit a petition for all R-1 nonimmigrants, including those outside of the United States. The regulations also provided USCIS with discretionary authority to verify the submitted evidence through any means it determines appropriate, up to and including an on-site inspection of the petitioning organization.
[^ 1] See INA 101(a)(27)(C) and INA 101(a)(15)(R). See 8 CFR 204.5(m). The INA affords permanent religious workers a special immigrant status. 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 under the employment-based 4th-preference visa classification. See INA 101(a)(27)(C). For more information about adjusting to lawful permanent residence as a special immigrant religious worker, see Volume 7, Adjustment of Status, Part F, Special Immigrant-Based Adjustment, Chapter 2, Religious Workers [7 USCIS-PM F.2].
[^ 3] See Section 209 of the Immigration Act of 1990 (IMMACT 90), Pub. L. 101-649 (PDF), 104 Stat. 4978, 5027 (November 29, 1990), creating new INA 101(a)(15)(R). See Section 151 of IMMACT 90, Pub. L. 101-649 (PDF), 104 Stat. 4978, 5004 (November 29, 1990), creating new INA 101(a)(27)(C).
[^ 4] See Religious Worker Benefit Fraud Assessment Summary (PDF, 121.85 KB) (July 2006).
[^ 6] Previously, a prospective nonimmigrant outside the United States could apply at a consular office overseas or, if visa-exempt, seek initial admission into the United States. See 72 FR 20442, 20444 (Apr. 25, 2007).