R-1s and I-360 Special Immigrant Religious Workers

 

Many religious organizations employ at least one foreign national or will employ a foreign national at some point in the future. When these foreign nationals come to the U.S. to work for a religious organization on a temporary basis, they often have R-1, religious worker visas. When they work for a religious organization on a permanent basis, they are usually the beneficiaries of I-360, special immigrant religious worker petitions.

In an attempt to curb the high rate of fraud (nearly 1/3 of the cases for I-360 petitions) in the religious worker program, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) published a final rule on November 26, 2008. The final rule incorporates a number of changes.

Previously, it was possible for religious workers to apply for an R-1 visa directly at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate without first filing an R-1 petition with the USCIS. Under the final rule, an R-1 petition must first be filed with and approved by the USCIS before a religious worker can apply for an R-1 visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate. This new requirement may add months to the processing time to obtain an R-1 visa.

The final rule also added the requirement that the prospective employer sign and submit an attestation regarding the number of R-1 and special immigrant religious workers who have worked for the prospective employer and the number of R-1 and I-360 petitions filed by the prospective employer over the past five years. The prospective employer must also confirm that the eligibility criteria for the type of petition being filed have been met.

Before the final rule, an R-1 religious worker could get three years of R-1 status when first entering the U.S. with an R-1 visa. Assuming a five-year visa had been granted, the religious worker could get another three years of R-1 status with each subsequent entry into the U.S. until a total of five years of R-1 status had been reached. A religious worker could only hold R-1 status for five years. Under the final rule, a religious worker may still hold R-1 status for five years, but will only be able to get 30 months of R-1 status when first entering the U.S., with the possibility of a 30-month extension.