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.
The special immigrant religious worker category is one of several employment-based fourth-preference (EB-4) visa classifications. See additional information about other EB-4 classifications.
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 U.S. solely for the purpose of carrying on the vocation of a minister.
Sunset Date for Non-Minister Religious Workers
On Nov. 21, 2019, the president signed into law Public Law 116-69, extending the EB-4 non-minister special immigrant religious worker program through Dec. 20, 2019. 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. 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 for the purpose of carrying on the vocation of a minister, and their accompanying spouses and children, are not affected by this date.
To qualify as a special immigrant religious worker, the alien 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 2 years immediately before the filing of 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 the religious denomination in the United States.
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 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 alien was still employed as a religious worker;
- The break did not exceed 2 years; and
- The nature of the break was for further religious training or for sabbatical. However, the alien must have been a member of the petitioner’s denomination throughout the 2 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. If a petitioner believes that one of these requirements substantially burdens the organization’s exercise of religion, it 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 must support the request with relevant documentation. USCIS will decide exemption requests on a case-by-case basis, and notes that the petitioner bears the burden of showing that it qualifies for a RFRA exemption.
|Supporting Documents Required for the Religious Organization|
Supporting Documents Required for the Religious Worker
| Proof of tax-exempt status|
Proof of salaried or non-salaried compensation
| Proof of membership|
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:
Proof of previous religious work (either abroad or in the United States)
If the requisite previous employment was in the United States and:
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 page.