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.
Sunset Date for Non-Minister Religious Workers Program
On Sept. 30, 2023, the president signed into law H.R. 5860., extending the EB-4 non-minister special immigrant religious worker program through Nov. 17, 2023. The law allows these workers to immigrate or adjust to permanent resident by that date, also known as the sunset date. Non-minister special immigrant religious workers include those within a religious vocation or occupation engaged in either a professional or non-professional capacity. This date on which the program will end also applies to accompanying spouses and children of these non-minister special immigrant religious workers.
Special immigrants entering the U.S. solely to carry on the vocation of a minister, and their accompanying spouses and children, are not affected by the sunset date.
Religious Worker Expedite Requests
The decision to accommodate an expedite request is at USCIS’ sole discretion. We consider all expedite requests on a case-by-case basis. To increase efficiency in the review and processing of expedite requests, we are not required to provide justification regarding decisions on expedite requests.
A nonprofit organization whose request furthers the cultural or social interests of the United States may request expedited processing. For petitioners who are selected for a pre-adjudication compliance review site visit, USCIS cannot process the petitioner's request for expedited processing of Form I-360 Special Immigration Religious Worker petition until a successful compliance review is completed.
The request must demonstrate the urgent need to expedite the case based on the beneficiary’s specific role within the nonprofit in furthering cultural or social interests (as opposed to the organization’s role in furthering cultural or social interests). Examples may include a medical professional urgently needed for medical research related to a specific “social” U.S. interest (such as the COVID-19 pandemic or other socially impactful research or project). As another example, a religious organization may urgently need a beneficiary’s specific services and skill set to continue a vital social outreach program. In such instances, the religious organization must explain why the beneficiary is specifically needed, as opposed to pointing to a general shortage.
A special immigrant religious worker is a noncitizen who is coming to the United States to work full time (an average of at least 35 hours per week) in a compensated position as a minister or in a religious vocation or occupation and be employed by a:
- Non-profit religious organization in the United States;
- Religious organization that is authorized by a group tax exemption holder to use its group tax exemption; or
- Non-profit organization which is affiliated with a religious denomination in the United States.
To qualify, you must have been 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 the petition. In addition, you must 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.
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, the petitioner 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 decide exemption requests on a case-by-case basis.
The below table provides an overview of the evidentiary requirements for this classification. For further information about eligibility requirements and USCIS policy related to the special immigrant religious worker classification, see the USCIS Policy Manual, Volume 6, Immigrants, Part H, Designated and Special Immigrants, Chapter 2, Religious Workers.
|Supporting Documents Required for the Religious Organization||Supporting Documents Required for the Religious Worker and Position|
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:
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:
Proof of Salaried or Non-Salaried Compensation
The petitioner must submit verifiable evidence showing how the prospective employer intends to compensate the religious worker, including specific monetary or in-kind compensation. Evidence may include:
W-2 form or certified tax returns. If IRS documents are not available, the petitioner must explain why and provide comparable, verifiable documentation.
For additional information about USCIS policy related to the compensation requirements, see the USCIS Policy Manual.
Proof of Denominational Membership and Evidence Regarding the Prospective Position
The petitioner must submit:
If the denomination does not require a prescribed theological education, the petitioner must provide:
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:
If the religious worker received no salary but supported themselves and any dependents, the petitioner must 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 subsequent Internal Revenue Code revisions.
** The religious denomination certification should be signed by an organization other than the prospective employer, and attest that the prospective employer is part of the same religious denomination as the attesting organization.
Under the regulations at 8 CFR 204.5(m)(12), USCIS may conduct on-site inspections of the petitioning organization either before or after a final decision is made on the petition. If we decide to conduct a pre-approval inspection, satisfactory completion of such inspection will be a condition for us approving your petition.
The religious organization must provide the physical address where you will work, even if that address is not the same as the mailing address, so we may conduct an on-site inspection, if we determine it necessary to verify information and supporting evidence submitted in the petition.
In addition, we may inspect your work location after adjudicating the form to verify your work hours, compensation, and duties. We may also complete a post-adjudication inspection in cases of suspected non-compliance with the terms of the visa classification or where the petitioning entity has undergone substantial changes since its last filing. We closely monitor all on-site inspections to ensure program integrity and to prevent undue delays in the adjudication process.
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.
- USCIS Policy Manual, Vol. 6, Part H, Chapter 2
- Adjustment of Status Filing Charts from the Visa Bulletin
- Green Card Eligibility Category
- Form I-360, Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant
- Checklist of Required Initial Evidence for Form I-360 (for informational purposes only)
- Direct Filing Addresses for Form I-360, Immigrant Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er) or Special Immigrant