U.S. immigration law provides for two categories of immigrant visas for religious workers:
Both of these immigrant religious worker categories are included in the Employment Fourth Preference (E4): Certain Special Immigrants category and are separate and distinct from the nonimmigrant Temporary Religious Workers category.
Qualifications of both the petitioning organization and the prospective religious worker are reviewed by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) when the required petition is filed and by a consular officer during the prospective religious worker’s visa interview at a U.S. embassy or consulate. To qualify as an immigrant religious worker, for at least two years before a petition may be filed on your behalf, you must:
NOTE: If you receive an immigrant visa in the Certain Religious Worker (SR) category, you must enter the United States with the visa before September 30, 2012.
The first step toward a religious worker immigrant visa is to file a petition. You or your prospective U.S. employer must file a Form I-360, Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant, with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). For instructions on how to file a petition, including requirements to qualify, required documentation relating to the petitioning organization, and required supporting documents, see Form I-360 on the USCIS website. Additional information for all employment-based immigrants is available on the USCIS Permanent Workers webpage.
After USCIS approves the petition, it is sent to the National Visa Center (NVC). Once received, the NVC will assign a case number for the petition. When an applicant’s priority date meets the most recent qualifying date, the NVC will send the Choice of Address and Agent form to the applicant, if an attorney or agent will be used. (NOTE: If you already have an attorney, the NVC will not send you this form.) NVC will begin pre-processing the applicant’s case by providing the applicant with instructions to submit the appropriate fees. After the appropriate fees are paid, the NVC will request that the applicant submit the necessary immigrant visa documents, including application forms, civil documents, and more. Learn more about National Visa Center visa case processing.
Based on your approved petition, your spouse and minor unmarried children, younger than 21, may apply for immigrant visas with you. Like you, they must also fill out required application forms, obtain required civil documents, pay the required fees, and undergo medical examinations.
All categories of employment-based immigrant visas, including religious workers, are issued in the chronological order in which the petitions were filed until the annual numerical limit for the category is reached. The filing date of a petition becomes the applicant's priority date. Immigrant visas cannot be issued until an applicant's priority date is reached. In certain heavily oversubscribed categories, there may be a waiting period of several years before a priority date is reached. Check the Visa Bulletin for the latest priority dates. Religious Worker immigrant visa cases fall under Employment Fourth Preference.
Fees are charged for the following services:
Note: Fees must be paid for each intending immigrant, regardless of age, and are not refundable.
Fees should not be paid to the NVC or paid at the U.S. embassy or consulate where you have your visa interview unless specifically requested. Applicants will be provided with instructions by the NVC on where and when to pay the appropriate fees. These instructions are also available on NVC's Immigrant Visa Processing webpage. Do not send payments to the NVC’s address in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
In general, the following documents are required:
Once the NVC determines the file is complete with all the required documents, they schedule the applicant’s interview appointment. NVC then sends the file, containing the applicant’s petition and the documents listed above, to the U.S. embassy or consulate where the applicant will be interviewed for a visa. The applicant, attorney, and third-party agent, if applicable, will receive appointment emails, or letters (if no email address is available), containing the date and time of the applicant's visa interview along with instructions, including guidance for obtaining a medical examination.
Applicants should bring their valid passports, as well as any other documentation above not already provided to NVC, to their visa interviews. During the interview process, ink-free, digital fingerprint scans will be taken. Generally, applicants will receive their original civil documents and original translations back at the time of interview.
Important Notice: In preparing for your interview, you will need to schedule and complete your medical examination and any required vaccinations before your visa interview. Before an immigrant visa can be issued, every applicant, regardless of age, must undergo a medical examination which must be performed by an authorized panel physician. Applicants are provided instructions by NVC regarding medical examinations, including information on authorized panel physicians. See Medical Examination for more information, including a list of panel physicians by country, and frequently asked questions.
U.S. immigration law requires immigrant visa applicants to obtain certain vaccinations prior to the issuance of immigrant visas. See Vaccination Requirements for IV Applicants for the list of required vaccinations and additional information.
Employment based immigrant visa cases, including for Religious Workers, take additional time because they are in numerically-limited visa categories. The length of time varies from case to case and cannot be predicted for individual cases with any accuracy. Some cases are delayed because applicants do not follow instructions carefully. Some visa applications require further administrative processing, which takes additional time after the visa applicant’s interview by a consular officer.
Certain conditions and activities may make an applicant ineligible for a visa. Examples of these ineligibilities include: drug trafficking; overstaying a previous visa; and submitting fraudulent documents. If you are ineligible for a visa, you will be informed by the consular officer and advised whether there is a waiver of the ineligibility available to you and what the waiver process is. Classes of Aliens Ineligible to Receive Visas contains the complete list of ineligibilities.
Attempting to obtain a visa by the willful misrepresentation of a material fact or fraud may result in you becoming permanently ineligible to receive a U.S. visa or enter the United States.
If you are issued an immigrant visa, the consular officer will give you your passport containing the immigrant visa and a sealed packet containing the documents which you provided. It is important that you do not open the sealed packet. Only the U.S. immigration official should open this packet when you enter the United States. You are required to enter the United States before the expiration date printed on your visa. When traveling, the primary (or principal) applicant must enter the United States before or at the same time as family members holding visas.
If you receive your immigrant visa on or after February 1, 2013, you must pay the USCIS Immigrant Fee to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) after you receive your immigrant visa and before you travel to the United States. Select USCIS Immigrant Fee on the USCIS website for more information.
Important Notice: USCIS will not issue a Permanent Resident Card (Form I-551 or Green Card) until you have paid the fee.
A visa allows a foreign citizen to travel to the U.S. port of entry and request permission to enter the United States. Applicants should be aware that a visa does not guarantee entry into the United States. The DHS, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials have authority to permit or deny admission to the United States. Travelers should review important information about admissions and entry requirements on the CBP website under Travel. Once you have been admitted to the U.S. as a permanent resident, your Permanent Resident Card, Form I-551 (formerly called Alien Registration Card, also known as green card) will be mailed to you.
If you elected on your immigrant visa application form to receive your Social Security Number Card upon admission to the United States as an immigrant, your card will be sent via mail to the U.S. address you designated on your application form, and should arrive approximately six weeks following your admission. If you did not elect to receive your Social Security Number Card automatically, you will have to apply to be issued a card following your arrival in the United States. To learn about applying for a Social Security Number Card, visit the Social Security Administration website.
Immigrant visa applicants should not make any final travel arrangements, dispose of property, or give up jobs until and unless visas are issued. Some visa applications require further administrative processing, which takes additional time after the visa applicant's interview by a consular officer. An immigrant visa is generally valid for six months from the issuance date.