Special Immigrants

Employment: Religious Workers 

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Employment: Religious Workers


U.S. immigration law provides for two categories of immigrant visas for religious workers:

  • Ministers of Religion (SD-category); and

  • Certain Religious Workers (SR-category).
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.

Qualifying as an Immigrant Religious Worker

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:

  • Have been a member of the religious denomination having a bona fide nonprofit, religious organization in the United States for which you are coming to work; and

  • Have been continuously carrying out the religious vocation or occupation that you intend to carry out in the United States.

  • Also:

  • To qualify for an immigrant visa as a Minister of Religion (SD-category), you must be entering the United States to work solely as a minister of your religious denomination.

  • To qualify for an immigrant visa as a Certain Religious Worker (SR-category), you must be entering the United States to work:
    • In a religious vocation either in a professional or nonprofessional capacity; or
    • In a religious occupation in a professional or nonprofessional capacity.
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 an Immigrant Visa: Filing the Petition

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.

Next Steps Fees and Visa Application

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.

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