A green card approval based on being a religious worker requires that the applicant has worked as a religious worker for two years.
Religious workers can verify that they have two years of work experience in a foreign country and apply directly for a green card.
Criteria for eligibility for a religious worker green card
The USCIS eligibility criteria for a special immigration religious worker green card is as follows:
- The worker must have belonged to a religious denomination – one with “bona fide-non-profit religious organization” credentials in the US – for two years or more prior to filing the religious worker petition.
- The religious worker must seek to work:
- “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”
- The religious worker must be coming to America to work for a bonafide organization that is either:
- A non-profit religious organization in the US
- Is affiliated with the religious denomination in the United States
- The applicant must have been employed in one of the positions described:
- After reaching 14 years of age
- Either in the US or abroad
- Continuously for at least two years immediately before filing the petition. The previous religious work doesn’t need to “correspond precisely to the type of work to be performed.” after the green card is approved.
- A break in the two-year continuity requirement shouldn’t affect the applicant’s eligibility if all the following apply:
- The foreigner was “still employed as a religious worker”
- “The break did not exceed 2 years”
- “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.”
Full-time work generally means 35 hours per week.
Form I-360 requirements
The initial step for a religious worker is to file Form I-360 with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
- Form I-360. This form can be used for non-religious worker purposes too so it’s important to understand precisely what information pertains to the religious worker.
- Generally, the employer completes its section, the employee completes the employee parts, and the employee/applicant also fills out the religious worker parts.
What requirements for Form I-360 apply to the employer?
A church or any religious organization that sponsors a religious worker must complete the following tasks:
Attest to specific requirements
The employer needs to attest to the following items:
- The religious organization information
- The membership and affiliations of the religious organization.
- Any other religious worker visa petitions the religious organization has filed
- The ability to pay the religious worker his/her wages. This includes W-2 forms which show how much the employee has been paid (and how much other employees have been paid), the organization’s tax returns, and other financial statements and reports.
- The details about the employment
- The details about the qualifications of the employee
Nonprofit status approval
The employees will need to supply a nonprofit determination letter from the IRS verifying the tax-exempt status of the organization – or provide similar documentation.
- A religious organization which has an IRS 501(c)(3) letter can provide a current valid IRS letter confirming the organization’s tax-exempt status
- Some religious organizations are considered tax-exempt as part of a group tax exemption. In this case, the religious organization must provide a valid IRS group tax-exemption determination letter.
- Organizations that are an “affiliated with the religious organization,” according to the USCIS, must provide all of the following:
- “A currently valid determination letter from the IRS showing that the organization is tax-exempt”
- Organizational literature
- Documentation showing the organization’s religious purpose and nature
- “A religious denomination certification, part of Form I-360.
What requirements for Form I-360 apply to the employee?
The religious organization must also complete the following information about the employee application for the religious green card:
- Proof of the employee’s membership in the religious denomination: This documentation should cover the prior two years (or more) before the filing date of the I-360 petition. For example, a letter from a church official such as a pastor should be adequate.
- Educational and ordination documents if the applicant is a minister. The following documentation is required, according to the USCIS,:
- “A copy of the religious worker’s certificate of ordination or similar documents”
- Evidence confirming the religious organization accepts the religious workers’ qualifications to work as a minister in the religious denomination – and evidence verifying the religious worker who is applying for a religious green card has “completed any course of prescribed theological education at an accredited theological institution normally required or recognized by that religious denomination.” This evidence should include transcripts, the course of study, and accreditation documentation for the theological institution – showing the institution is accredited by the denomination
- For religious organizations without formal theological education requirements, the form should include documentation, according to the USCIS,:
- Explaining the religious denomination’s ordination process and the religious denomination’s requirements for ordination to minister;
- The religious denomination’s requirements for ordination to minister
- The denomination’s levels of ordination, if any
- “A list of duties performed by virtue of ordination”
- Confirmation the employee/applicant has met those requirements.
- Proof that the employee did work for two years: The religious employer must provide documentation confirming how it will pay the religious worker – including monetary compensation or in-kind compensation. Acceptable documentation, according to the USCIS, generally includes:
- “Past evidence of compensation for similar positions”
- Organizational budges showing funds have been set aside for salaries, leases, etc.
- Documentation showing that the religious worker’s room and the board will be paid
- W-2 forms, certified tax returns, and other IRS documentation documenting prior compensation
If IRS documents are not available, the religious organization should explain why the documents aren’t available and provide comparable, verifiable documentation