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U.S. Visas

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Visas for Immigrant Religious Workers

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Important Notice: Same-sex Marriage

Same-sex spouses of U.S. citizens and Lawful Permanent Residents (LPRs), along with their minor children, are now eligible for the same immigration benefits as opposite-sex spouses. Consular officers at U.S. Embassies and Consulates will adjudicate their immigrant visa applications upon receipt of an approved I-130 or I-140  petition from USCIS. For further information, please see our FAQ’s.

Overview

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, 2016.

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 instruct the applicant to complete Form DS-261, Choice of Address and Agent. (NOTE: If you already have an attorney, the NVC will not instruct you to complete Form DS-261.) The 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.

Can My Family Members also Receive Immigrant Visas?

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. Same-sex spouses of U.S. citizens and Lawful Permanent Residents (LPRs), along with their minor children, are now eligible for the same immigration benefits as opposite-sex spouses. Consular officers at U.S. Embassies and Consulates will adjudicate their immigrant visa applications upon receipt of an approved I-130 or I-140  petition from USCIS. For further information, please see our FAQ’s.

Numerical Limitations

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

Fees are charged for the following services:

  • Filing a Form I-360, Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant, with USCIS (this fee is charged by USCIS)
  • Processing an immigrant visa application, Form DS-260 (see Note below)
  • Medical examination and required vaccinations (costs vary)
  • Other costs may include: translations; photocopying charges; fees for obtaining the documents you need for the immigrant visa application (such as passport, police certificates, birth certificates, etc.); and expenses for travel to the U.S. embassy or consulate for your visa interview. Costs vary from country to country and case to case.

For current fees for Department of State services, see Fees for Visa Services. For current fees for USCIS services, see Check Filing Fees on the USCIS website.

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 Pay Processing Fees. Do not send payments to the NVC’s address in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

Required Documentation

In general, the following documents are required:

  • Passport(s) valid for six months beyond the intended date of entry into the United States, unless longer validity is specifically requested by the U.S. Embassy/Consulate in your country. Please review the instructions for guidance.
  • Form DS-260, Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration Application, completed by the applicant. 
    • Preview a sample DS-260 (6.4MB).
  • Two (2) 2x2 photographs. See the required photo format explained in Photograph Requirements.
  • Civil Documents for the applicant. See Documents the Applicant Must Submit for more specific information about documentation requirements, including information on which documents may need to be translated. The consular officer may ask for more information during your visa interview. Bring your original civil documents (or certified copies) such as birth and marriage certificates, as well as legible photocopies of the original civil documents, and any required translations to your immigrant visa interview. Original documents and translations can then be returned to you.
  • Financial Support – At your immigrant visa interview, you must demonstrate to the consular officer that you will not become a public charge in the United States.
  • Completed Medical Examination Forms – These are provided by the panel physician after you have completed your medical examination and vaccinations (see below).

Visa Interview

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.

Each applicant should bring a valid passport to the interview, as well as any other documentation above not already provided to NVC. A consular officer will interview the applicant, and the consular officer will determine whether the applicant is eligible to receive an immigrant visa in accordance with U.S. immigration law. Ink-free, digital fingerprint scans will be taken on the day of the interview. Generally, an applicant receives original civil documents and original translations back at the time of interview.

Medical Examination and Vaccinations

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. NVC provides applicants instructions 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.

Vaccination Requirements

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.

How Long Does It Take?

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 consular officer interviews the applicant.

Visa Ineligibility

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. Ineligibilities and Waivers: Laws contains the complete list of ineligibilities.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. Ineligibilities and Waivers: Laws contains the complete list of ineligibilities.

Misrepresentation of Material Facts or Fraud

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.

When You Have Your Immigrant Visa - What You Should Know

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 U.S. before the expiration date printed on your visa. When traveling, the primary (or principal) applicant must enter the U.S. before or at the same time as family members holding visas. 

USCIS Immigrant Fee - You must pay the USCIS Immigrant Fee to 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.

Entering the United States: Port-of-Entry

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 paid the USCIS immigrant fee (explained above), and 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.

How to Apply for a Social Security Number Card

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 by 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.

When You Are a Permanent Resident

Coming to the United States to live permanently, you will want to learn more about your status as a Lawful Permanent Resident. See Welcome to the United States: A Guide for New Immigrants to review information on the USCIS website about living in the United States.

Additional Information

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. An immigrant visa is generally valid for six months from the issuance date.

General Visa Questions

  • Before submitting your inquiry, we request that you carefully review this website for answers to your questions. Because of the volume of inquiries, we cannot promise an immediate reply to your inquiry.
  • If your inquiry concerns a visa case in progress overseas, you should first contact the U.S. embassy or consulate handling your case for status information. Select U.S. Embassy or Consulate to find contact information.
  • You can find contact information for our Public Inquiries Division at Contact Us.