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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 U.S. for the purpose of performing religious work in a full-time compensated position.

Ending Date for Non-Minister Religious Workers Program

On Oct. 1, 2020, the president signed into law Pub. L. 116-159, extending the EB-4 non-minister special immigrant religious worker program through Dec. 11, 2020. The law allowed these workers to immigrate or adjust to permanent resident by that date. Non-minister special immigrant religious workers include people within a religious vocation or occupation who work in a professional or nonprofessional capacity. This program end date also applies to accompanying spouses and children of these non-minister special immigrant religious workers.

This end date does not affect special immigrants entering the U.S. solely for the purpose of serving as a minister, and their accompanying spouses and children.

Eligibility Criteria

To qualify as a special immigrant religious worker, you must:

  • Have been a member of a religious denomination that has a bona fide non-profit religious organization in the United States for at least two years immediately before filing a petition for this status with USCIS;
  • 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; or
    • A religious occupation either in a professional or nonprofessional capacity;
  • 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 a religious denomination in the United States; and
  • Have been working in one of the positions described above after the age of 14, either abroad or in the United States, continuously for at least two years immediately before the filing of a petition with USCIS. The prior religious work does not need to correspond precisely to the type of work you will perform. A break in the continuity of the work during the preceding two years will not affect eligibility so long as:
    • You were 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 sabbatical. However, you must have been a member of the petitioner’s denomination throughout the two years of qualifying employment.

 

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

 

A U.S. employer, or you on your own behalf, must file Form I-360, Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant, to request special immigrant religious worker classification. Both you and the employing non-profit religious organization must satisfy the requirements listed below. If a petitioner believes that one of these requirements substantially burdens the organization’s exercise of religion, they may seek an exemption under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). A written request for the exemption should accompany the initial filing, and it must explain how the provision:

  • Requires participation in an activity prohibited by a sincerely held religious belief; or
  • Prevents participation in conduct motivated by a sincerely held religious belief.

 

The petitioner bears the burden of showing that they qualify for a RFRA exemption and must support the request with relevant documentation. We will decide exemption requests on a case-by-case basis.

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, the petitioner must 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, the petitioner must provide a currently valid IRS group tax-exemption determination letter and documentation that the organization is covered under the group tax exemption. Examples include a:

  • Letter from the parent organization authorizing the petitioner to use its group tax exemption;
  • Directory for that organization listing the petitioner as a member of the group;
  • Membership listing on the parent organization’s website that confirms coverage under its exemption; or
  • Letter from the IRS confirming the coverage.

 

If the IRS determination letter does not identify the organization’s tax exemption as a religious organization, then the petitioner must submit evidence establishing the organization’s religious nature and purpose. This may include, but is not limited to, the entity’s articles of incorporation or bylaws, flyers, articles, brochures, or other literature that describes the religious purpose and nature of the organization.

 

If the organization is affiliated with the religious denomination, the petitioner must 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, including, but not limited to:
    • A copy of the organizing instrument of the organization that specifies the purposes of the organization;
    • Organizational literature describing the religious purpose and nature of the activities of the organization; and
    • A religious denomination certification stating that the petitioning organization is affiliated with the religious denomination;**
  • Organizational literature; and
  • A religious denomination certification, included as part of their Form I-360.

 

Proof of Salaried or Non-Salaried Compensation

 

The petitioner must submit verifiable evidence showing how the organization intends to 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, or leases;
  • Evidence that the organization will provide room and board to the religious worker; and

W-2 or certified tax returns. If IRS documents are not available, the petitioner must explain why and provide comparable, verifiable documentation.

Proof of Membership

 

The petitioner must submit:

  • 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 two years immediately before filing Form I-360; and
  • 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, the petitioner must provide:
    • A copy of the religious worker’s certificate of ordination or similar documents; and

Documents showing the religious denomination accepted the religious worker’s qualification as a minister, as well as evidence that they 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, the petitioner must 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 the religious worker completed the denomination’s requirements for ordination.

 

Proof of Previous Religious Work (Abroad or in the United States)

 

If the requisite previous employment was in the United States and the religious worker received salaried compensation, the petitioner must provide documents showing they received a salary. This documentation 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.

 

If the requisite previous employment was in the United States and the religious worker received non-salaried compensation, the petitioner must provide:

  • IRS documentation of the non-salaried compensation if available; or
  • An explanation of why IRS documents are not available and provide comparable, verifiable documentation.

 

If the religious worker received no salary but supported themselves and any dependents, the petitioner provide verifiable documents to show how the religious worker maintained support. 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, the petitioner must provide comparable evidence of the religious work.

* The IRS determination letter must be valid and cover the petitioning organization at the time the religious organization files Form I-360. A valid determination letter may include a letter that the IRS issued before the effective date of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, or may be issued under future Internal Revenue Code revisions.

** The religious denomination certification should be signed by an organization other than the petitioning organization, and attest that the petitioning organization is part of the same religious denomination as the attesting organization.

Family of EB-4 Special Immigrant Religious Workers

Your spouse and unmarried children under the age of 21 may accompany or follow to join you or adjust status in the United States. For more information, please visit our Green Card Eligibility Category page.

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