Religious Immigration

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Religious Workers to Face Significant Delays in Permanent Resident Processing

Miguel Naranjo

Miguel Naranjo, director of CLINIC’s Religious Immigration Service, has written a short analysis of the implications of the State Department’s May Visa Bulletin, released on April 12. 

International religious workers in the U.S. and abroad who are in the process of applying for permanent residence may experience significant case processing delays in the next several months, according to the State Department’s Visa Bulletin for May 2016.

In particular, nationals from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras may experience processing delays of their adjustment of status applications (permanent residence applications) after May 1, 2016. The bulletin reflected a retrogression of the priority dates for religious workers from those countries, back to January 2010.  United States Citizenship and Immigration Service will shortly announce the deadline for filing adjustment of status applications for people from those countries.

The number of religious worker immigrant visas (for certain countries) allowed under immigration laws, known as Certain Special Immigrants, has been nearly reached for this fiscal year. When the number is reached, the government cannot accept new applications for permanent residence. Applications currently pending will be placed on hold.

The Visa Bulletin also suggests that any forward movement on the priority dates is unlikely for the remainder of this year. Also, although the delay referenced in the bulletin is limited to the countries above, there is a high probability that India and Mexico will also be added to the list in the next several months. Thus, nationals from those countries may soon face similar restrictions.

While there has not been any significant increased demand for religious worker visas (R-1 visas or religious worker immigrant visas), the category Certain Special Immigrants also includes Special Immigrant Juveniles. The Visa Bulletin figures reflect an extremely high demand from juvenile applicants for permanent residence from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras as a contributing factor.

The delay will have a profound effect on international religious workers seeking permanent residence in the U.S. In addition, the situation compounds the hardship for religious worker “non-ministers” who are facing an end of their permanent residence program on Sept. 30, due to sunset provisions in the legislation, unless the program is extended by Congress.

At this point we cannot predict how long the delays will remain in place and if other countries will be added. We understand the hardship and difficulty this creates for your organization, your religious workers and the community that relies on their ministry and work. We know you will have a lot of questions. We are doing everything possible to address the matter within CLINIC’s Religious Immigration Services section and with the assistance of our Advocacy staff.

Finally, this does NOT change the R-1 Visa program. The R-1 Visa is separate from permanent residence and you are still able to sponsor religious workers for R-1 visas. As always, we greatly appreciate your support and we will work diligently to address the situation.

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Special Immigrant Non-Minister Religious Worker Program Extended Until December 11, 2015

Ashley Feasley

On September 30, 2015, Congress passed a continuing resolution (CR), a stop-gap measure which continues funding the government at current levels and keeps the government open until December 11, 2015. The continuing resolution reauthorized the Special Immigrant Non-Minister Religious Worker Program as well as three other immigration-related programs, the Conrad 30 Program, the EB-5 Program, and the E-Verify Program for the same period of time as the resolution. The continuing resolution passed easily by large majorities in the House of Representatives and the Senate.

The Special Immigrant Non-Minister Religious Worker Program, created in 1990, allows non-ministers or other lay religious workers to come to the United States as lawful permanent residents. Currently there is a bipartisan bill in the Senate that would make the program permanent with no changes. On September 28th Representative Mike Honda introduced a companion bill to the Senate bill in the House of Representatives.

Finding a more permanent extension for the Special Immigrant Non-Minister Religious Worker Program remains an ongoing issue for CLINIC Advocacy. CLINIC is working with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and other advocates to find a more permanent extension.

Please share individual success stories relating to the Special Immigrant Non-Minister Religious Worker Program with CLINIC so that case examples may be shared with Congressional members. We are interested in hearing from actual visa recipients as well as from parish and diocese staff who have benefitted from the program. Please see our draft letter template as a guide to your letter writing. Feel free to send letters of support and contact CLINIC’s Advocacy team via email entitled “Religious Worker Visa Impact Example” at:


Non-minister Permanent Residence Program Update (Sunset of Non-minister Program)

By Miguel A. Naranjo, RIS Section Director

The non-minister permanent residence program that includes religious brothers and sisters (religious vocations) and other non-minister religious positions (religious occupations) is scheduled to expire on 09/30/2015 unless it is renewed by Congress.  If past experience is an indicator, we have every reason to believe that the program will be extended as it has been renewed several times.  Typically, it has been timely renewed, causing no interruptions or delays in the processing of cases.  However, the sunset has also been allowed to expire in the past with the renewal not occurring until several months later.  If that occurs, cases currently still in process (pending) will be delayed and put on hold until the program is renewed.

The RIS section has been informed that there is proposed legislation in Congress to extend the program.  However, several critical elements, such as when the legislation will be introduced and the amount of time the program will be extended, remain unclear.   Congress will soon be in recess and it is unlikely that there will be any legislative activity on this issue until the fall.  We have been regularly reminding our clients about this issue and will continue to keep everyone updated.  Please note that the sunset of this program is limited to permanent residence.  It does not affect the R-1 Religious Worker visa program, which is available to all qualified religious workers, nor does it have any effect on the minister program for permanent residence.

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USCIS Eliminates “Lawful Status” Requirements in Special Immigrant Religious Worker Program (Permanent Residence Program)

By Miguel A. Naranjo, RIS Section Director

On July 5, 2015, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) issued a policy memo declaring that the “lawful status” requirements of the immigrant regulations for religious workers would no longer be considered when adjudicating the I-360 immigrant petition.  In addition, USCIS will amend Title 8 CFR Sec. 204.5(m)(4) and (11) and remove the lawful status requirements from the immigrant regulations for religious workers.  Prior to this change, to be eligible for permanent residence a religious worker needed to demonstrate that he/she had at least two years of experience (as a religious worker) and if that experience was gained in the U.S., the religious worker must have shown that he/she maintained lawful status (and work authorization) during that time.  With this announcement, the lawful status requirement is eliminated and USCIS will not deny religious worker I-360 petitions on this basis.

The lawful status requirements were first added to the regulations by USCIS in 2008 when the religious worker immigration program was undergoing major changes.  At that time, we immediately realized the potential problem this addition would create for religious workers seeking permanent residence.  We questioned the authority USCIS believed it had to change the prior immigrant regulations in such a significant way without any directive or consent from Congress.  No other employment-based immigration category has any similar requirements and we believed that religious workers were being treated unfairly as compared to other employment-based groups. 

Fortunately, we were not alone in this belief and other immigration practitioners began to challenge USCIS on this issue.  On April 7, 2015, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Shalom Pentecostal Church v. Acting Secretary DHS, 783 F.3d 156 (3d Cir. 2015) found that USCIS went beyond its legal authority (ultra vires) when it added the lawful status requirements to the immigrant regulations for religious workers.  The court found the immigration statute on special immigrant religious workers was clear and unambiguous and that the changed regulations were inconsistent with the statute.  As a result of this decision and other similar challenges, USCIS issued this policy change eliminating the lawful status requirements.

Effective immediately, a religious worker who has any period of unlawful status and unauthorized work may be eligible to apply for permanent residence despite having these violations.  This new policy, however, is limited to the I-360 immigrant petition only and does not address the impact such violations may have at the adjustment of status stage (I-485 application) of the permanent residence process.   So while this change is a benefit for religious workers, there still may be issues related to immigration status which might prevent the religious worker from being granted permanent residence.  It is important to thoroughly review issues of unlawful status before beginning the permanent residence process in order to assess whether the religious worker would ultimately be able to gain permanent residence under this program.  If you have questions about this new policy, please contact your RIS Attorney directly or RIS Section Director Miguel A. Naranjo.

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Updates on USCIS Site Visits for Religious Workers

By Megan S. Turngren, RIS Attorney

An important part of the immigration process of sponsoring international religious workers to the U.S. involves a site visit from USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services).  This is required per the immigration regulations and is used to verify the elements of the petition filed by the sponsor (including sponsor and beneficiary information, work location, etc.).  These site visits may occur with advance notice or without any notice at all.  Also, a successful site visit is a prerequisite for the sponsor’s ability to file I-129 petitions for nonimmigrant religious workers via premium processing.

It is important to keep in mind the overall purpose of site visits.  Broadly speaking, it is to detect and deter fraud in obtaining immigration benefits.  Thus, visits are normally conducted by the Fraud Detection and National Security (FDNS) unit of the local USCIS field office.  Practically speaking, this means that all supporting information used to obtain the underlying I-129 petition is "fair game" for scrutiny and questioning on a site visit. 

Over the past few months, attorneys within the Religious Immigration Services (RIS) section of CLINIC have noticed greater scrutiny involving site visits and premium processing service (expedited processing).  Two of the primary issues are detailed below:

  • A site visit can be conducted either before or after an I-129 petition for a nonimmigrant religious worker is approved.  A “pre-adjudication” site visit is conducted after the petition is submitted but before a decision is made on the petition.  A “post-adjudication” site visit occurs after the petition has already been approved. 

Recently, USCIS has started enforcing the requirement that the petitioner have a “pre-adjudication” site visit conducted before the petitioner is eligible for premium processing.  This is problematic because over the past several years, USCIS has focused on “post-adjudication” site visits in lieu of “pre-adjudication” site visits.  USCIS indicates that a “pre-adjudication” site visit should be conducted at a sponsor’s headquarters when the sponsor first begins submitting petitions for foreign-born religious workers.  However, in practice, a site visit is not always conducted until after a petition is adjudicated.

If a religious organization has never had a “pre-adjudication” site visit but has only had a “post-adjudication” site visit, then the organization must be aware that they may not be allowed to use the premium processing service until a “pre-adjudication” site visit has been conducted.  This may be the case even if “post-adjudication” site visits have been conducted and the petitioner has previously successfully filed petitions via premium processing. 

If a petition for premium processing is filed and the premium processing request is rejected because the organization has not had a “pre-adjudication” site visit, it would be prudent to reach out to offices of U.S. Senators to request assistance in facilitating the site visit process.  They may be able to help move the process forward.  Please note that USCIS does not accept requests for a site visit to be conducted and will not act upon a request from the petitioner or attorney for a site visit.  Still, we have seen positive results when a Senator’s office is requesting that the site visit be conducted.

  • If the sponsor relocates to a new primary office space, then USCIS may no longer allow this sponsor to use premium processing until a NEW site visit has been conducted at the new office headquarters.  Therefore, a move across town can impede the ability to request premium processing on future cases even though the sponsor may have previously had numerous site visits and numerous cases filed for premium processing.  Please plan accordingly for any cases that need to be filed via premium processing when you are considering a move to a new location.


Preparing For Site Visits 

Sponsors should always be prepared for an unannounced site visit.  However, site visits are not exclusively physical inspections.  USCIS is also conducting visits by telephone and email.  Since the USCIS typically does not provide any advance notice, it is best practice to treat each day as a potential site visit day. 

As mentioned, the purpose of a site visit is fraud detection.  For a “pre-adjudication” site visit, the USCIS will primarily want to confirm that the petitioning religious organization is a bona-fide religious entity.  During a “post-adjudication” site visit, USCIS will also want to verify that the religious worker is in fact working at the location stated on the petition and that the religious worker’s stated duties and compensation information is accurate. If an inspector notes inconsistencies between the petition and what they see on their visit, they may deny a pending petition or revoke and terminate an approved petition.  Given this risk, we strongly advise our clients to expect questions about the underlying information on the I-129 petition.  Of course, it is important to remember that site visits should not be "fishing expeditions".  Questions should be limited to the specific foreign national and should also be confined to the legal requirements for R-1 status (and not other statuses or benefits). 

We have also been made aware of instances where USCIS has hired private contractors for site visits.  Because the contractors are presumably not experts at immigration law, clients should be prepared to deal with individuals with a less-than-complete understanding of the requirements of R-1 status.  Despite any frustration this may cause, it is important to be professional, respectful, and compliant with the representative's requests. 

Given the recent trend of site visits by phone and email, petitioners and beneficiaries should make sure they provide the most up-to-date phone number and email address when filing the I-129 petition.  In addition, since phone and email site visits may require responses to requests for information and/or documents within 3-5 business days, petitioners and beneficiaries should regularly check their phone messages and emails.  If the organization’s primary contact person or the beneficiary plans to be out of town, there should be a designated person to monitor calls, emails and handle physical visits in their absence.  Also, as an automatic rule, you should immediately contact your attorney whenever contacted by USCIS officers.

Since post-adjudication site visits occur after an I-129 petition for a nonimmigrant religious worker is already approved, one might not immediately recognize their importance.  However, it is important to remember that USCIS can revoke an approved petition.  Therefore, any type of site visit can affect whether the foreign-born religious worker can work in the United States.  Failure to fully appreciate the importance of a site visit can have serious consequences, not only for the foreign national but even for the sponsoring religious organization.


Best practices:

In order to prepare for a post-adjudication site visit, the petitioning religious organization should:

  • Assign a designated person at the petitioner’s headquarters as the “go-to” person for USCIS site visits.
  • nform reception staff and other personnel to direct the USCIS officer to the designated person.
  • Keep copies of all I-129 petitions, any updated immigration documents (i.e., new I-94s) and current religious organization documents (i.e., recent financial records), and maintain these copies so that they are easily accessible and identifiable in the event of a site visit.


During the site visit:

  • Always request the name, title, and contact information for the USCIS officer and ask for his/her business card.
  • Take detailed notes of all information and documents requested by the USCIS officer. 
  • Whenever possible, consult your attorney before providing information and documents to the USCIS officer.


You should prepare your office and/or parish (or other beneficiary work location) for the possibility of a USCIS site visit.  Please contact our office if you have any questions about this or how to best prepare.

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Advocating for Special Immigrant Non-Minister Religious Worker Program



Religious Organization Support for the Special Immigrant Non- Minister Religious Worker Visa Program

May 14, 2015




Honorable Mitch McConnell Senate Majority Leader United States Senate Washington, DC  20510


Honorable Harry Reid Senate Minority Leader United States Senate Washington, DC 20510


Dear Senators:


We write to express our strong support for S. 1339, legislation which would extend permanently the Special Immigrant Non-Minister portion of the Religious Worker Visa Program (RWVP). Unless Congress acts by September 30, 2015, the RWVP will expire, leaving our religious denominations and organizations with no way to bring in, where necessary, permanent religious workers to staff our religious institutions and attend the urgent needs of the communities we serve.

The  Special  Immigrant  Non-Minister  portion  of  the  RWVP  became   law   in 1990. Originally enacted with a sunset provision, it has enjoyed broad, bipartisan support in Congress and has been reauthorized seven times since then. Under this important program, a maximum of 5,000 visas each year are available for religious workers employed by a broad range of religious denominations and organizations.

Religious communities throughout the United States that participate in the program have found these visas vital to carrying out their work. Some religious workers provide critical services in areas including religious education and care for vulnerable populations such as the elderly, immigrants, refugees, the homeless and hungry, abused and neglected children, and families at risk. Others work in areas as diverse as performing missionary work, designing and building temples, producing religious publications, sustaining prison ministries, and training health care professionals to provide religiously appropriate health care

We request that you support immediate passage of this vital legislation. Thank you for your leadership in ensuring the RWVP is extended so our institutions and communities can carry out our missions with the religious workers we need.




Agudath Israel of America American Jewish Committee

Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. Church of Scientology National Affairs Office Church World Service

Conference of Major Superiors of Men First Church of Christ, Scientist


Hindu American Foundation Jewish Council for Public Affairs Jubilee Campaign

Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service National Association of Evangelicals Rabbinical Assembly

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints The Jewish Federations of North America

UJA-New York Federation Union for Reform Judaism

United States Conference of Catholic Bishops World Relief



cc: Senator Charles Grassley, Chairman, Senate Committee on the Judiciary

Senator Patrick Leahy, Ranking Minority Member, Senate Committee on the Judiciary Senator Orrin G. Hatch

Senator Benjamin L. Cardin

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Need Summer Help? Supply Priests and Immigration Law

By: Megan S. Turngren

RIS Attorney


At this time of the year, many of our clients are searching for supply priests to help with additional coverage during the summer months.  With many clergy members planning vacations, there is always a need for additional help between May and September.  However, it is always important to consider the immigration consequences of hiring foreign-born priests for even a short period of time.

The best practice is to plan in advance for any foreign-born priest to serve in the U.S.  Ideally, if the priest is abroad, there will be sufficient time to submit an I-129 petition and apply for an R-1 visa.  Many Archdioceses and Dioceses apply for R-1 status for certain foreign-born priests each summer.  Even though the priest may only serve in the U.S. for a few months, it is a win-win for both parties.  The employer knows that they have an authorized foreign-born priest who can help while other priests go on vacation.  The priest knows that he is maintaining his status and working as allowed by U.S. immigration law.  Also, if the priest only serves a few months each year, then the time that he spends in R-1 status may not count against his five-year maximum period of authorized stay in R-1 status.  This is the safest plan of action and the one that is most likely to result in adherence to immigration law.

Still, this time of year, we receive an influx in the number of inquiries regarding priests who are requesting to serve for a few weeks or months during the summer.  While their offer of service is much appreciated, it is important to always consider the immigration consequences of employing a foreign-born worker – even for a short period of time.  Failing to adhere to the immigration guidelines can negatively impact both the foreign national and the employer.  In just a few short weeks, an unauthorized foreign-born employee can cause far-reaching negative consequences on all current and future immigration applications filed by the Archdiocese or Diocese. 

So before you consider placing a supply priest on the weekly bulletin, please take a moment to consider these issues.

Does he hold R-1 status for another employer?

Perhaps the priest is serving in R-1 status for another Diocese.  If this is the case, then he is most likely not eligible to come serve in a different Diocese – even for a short period of time.  Immigration regulations are very stringent about where a priest can serve while he holds R-1 status.  There must be a change of employer petition filed before the priest can begin working for any new employer.

Is he attending school in F-1 status?  Is this his summer break?

If a foreign-born priest is attending school, then he is most likely in F-1 student status.  There are numerous restrictions on an F-1 student’s ability to work.  Before hiring him to celebrate Mass, it is important to verify his current work authorization.  Does he have Optional Practical Training (OPT)?  Does he have an Employment Authorization Document (EAD)?  He can always speak with the Designated School Official (DSO) at his school to verify his ability to work while attending school.  Be certain to obtain all necessary verification before he begins service.

Is he currently in B-1 or B-2 status?

If the priest has entered in B-1 or B-2 status, then there are specific limitations on what he can and cannot do while inside the U.S.  For example, he cannot solicit any funds while he visits the U.S.  This would include requesting donations to pay for his trip to the U.S.  The parish may provide him with a place to stay and food to eat but there can be no payment of Mass stipends. However, if he enters the U.S. in B-1 status to perform missionary work, he may receive an allowance or reimbursement for expenses incidental to his temporary stay.  Therefore, it is always preferential to request a B-1 visa for religious activity. 

Please remember that immigration regulations do not follow the requirements set forth in canon law.  In order to ensure that all parties are adhering to the immigration guidelines, it is crucial to view the service as employment under immigration law.  It may do a great disservice to the priest to provide for him canonically while simultaneously jeopardizing his immigration status.

In the event that you are uncertain about the immigration status of a specific priest you are considering hiring or have any other general questions about religious worker immigration, please take a moment to contact your RIS attorney to discuss the situation.  We are here to help you navigate the winding roads of religious worker immigration law.

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Staff Highlight: Minyoung Ohm

Minyoung Ohm is a staff attorney with the Religious Immigration Services Section of CLINIC.  Prior to joining CLINIC, she was an associate attorney at Carliner & Remes in Washington D.C. and practiced immigration law in a variety of areas, including asylum, family-based visa petitions, and business immigration matters.  She graduated from the American University’s Washington College of Law in 2003. While in law school, she worked at Tahirih Justice Center providing immigration relief for survivors of domestic violence and served as a student advocate with the Washington College of Law’s Domestic Violence Clinic.  She has a B.A. in English and French from Wellesley College and is a member of the New York State Bar.
1.      How would you describe your time working for RIS?
I started working for RIS back in 2005, fresh out of law school.  Back then the religious immigration section was a whole lot smaller and the caseload was much less demanding.  I left CLINIC to work for a private immigration firm, then returned to CLINIC temporarily as a part time staff in 2008.  I ended up staying on and continued the work with RIS.  I’ve always felt that I am in a supportive environment where I can independently exercise my judgment and build my skills. 
2.      What inspires you to work in immigration? 
My grandfather was a pastor who came to the US many years ago and ministered to immigrant Korean churches in the state of Washington.  Back then the religious worker program was not in existence!  He really loved the US, calling it a blessed nation of God.  I really admired him and I often think it’s not a coincidence that I am working in religious immigration field.  As an immigrant myself who came to the US at age 13, I watched my parents and other Korean immigrants facing discrimination and obstacles despite the fact that they are legitimate immigrants who are hard working and wanted what’s best for their families.  I decided that I wanted to help these immigrants. 
3.      What do you enjoy most about working with RIS? 
My heart is really with providing direct legal services to individuals.   I enjoy interacting and advising RIS clients.   RIS clients are always so gracious and quick to express gratitude so they make my job rewarding.  
4.      Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Seoul, South Korea. My grandfather who eventually became a US citizen filed family petitions for all his grown sons and daughters. Our family, as a beneficiary of that petition, immigrated to the US and settled in Seattle, Washington.  I love the Pacific Northwest and I call Seattle my second home since I spent my teenage years there. 
5.      If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go?
This is a hard question. There are so many places that I want to go but no time. Maybe I will fly to see my parents in South Korea and do a tour of Asia.
6.      What are your favorite things to do when you’re not at work?
Relaxing at home with my three little girls, of course!  We play games, do crafts, bake muffins, dance, or just talk, whatever they are in the mood for.
7.      What is your hidden talent?
I grew up playing the piano.  My mom is a talented singer and she was often called to sing in churches.  I was her dedicated piano accompanist for many years.  I also worked as a pianist for the church that I served in Seattle. I am now the dedicated pianist for my daughter whenever she plays violin at recitals. 
8.      What is the best advice you've ever received?
Quick to listen, slow to speak –  we all often do the opposite but it really helps me to be a better lawyer, mother, spouse, and friend.

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The Year of Consecrated Life-CLINIC’S Annual Board Breakfast


On Monday, March 9, 2015 CLINIC hosted its annual Board Breakfast at the Silver Spring Office.  In celebration of the Year of Consecrated Life, the Religious Immigration Services Section invited a few of our local clients to meet with the members of CLINIC’s Board and CLINIC Staff.  The breakfast was a success, with all CLINIC Staff, eight Board members, and twenty RIS guests in attendance.  The breakfast was followed by a presentation given by RIS Director, Miguel Naranjo, about the work of RIS and also the work of CLINIC as a whole. 

This is just one of the many ways RIS will be celebrating the Year of Consecrated Life.  RIS is featuring a client once a month on the CLINIC website and also welcoming clients to CLINIC staff meetings to share their vocational journey.  RIS will also be hosting an in-house training on Wednesday, August 12, 2015.  If you would like to help RIS celebrate the Year of Consecrated Life, please contact your attorney!


We are blessed to have spent the morning with our Board of Directors and clients of CLINIC's Religious Immigration...

Posted by Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC) on Monday, March 9, 2015
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Sunset Provisions Deadline Approaching

By Minyoung Ohm

RIS Attorney


In September 2012, President Obama signed a bill extending the non-minister special immigrant religious worker program through September 30, 2015.  This law allows the non-ministers, such as religious sisters or brothers, or other lay religious workers in the religious vocation or religious occupation categories, to adjust to permanent resident status.  However this law is set to expire on September 30, 2015, unless the Congress introduces another bill to extend this non-minister provision and the President signs it into a law. 

 If this non-minister provision is not extended, those in R-1 religious worker status in the religious vocation or religious occupation categories will not be able to apply for permanent resident status.  This means that they will not be allowed to submit I-360 petitions or I-485 applications after the sunset date.  Also, they would not be able to obtain immigrant visas from U.S. consulates abroad.  The sunset date also applies to accompanying spouses and children of these non-minister special immigrant religious workers.  It is important to note that the sunset date does not affect the religious workers in the minister category and the ministers can continue to apply for permanent residence.

The non-minister special immigrant religious worker program was enacted in 1990 with a built-in sunset provision but it has always been extended through legislative action.  We hope that it will be extended again before the sunset date.  However, given the controversial climate surrounding the presidential executive action, we are unsure how quickly Congress will act on this provision.  

 In case there is a delay by Congress in reauthorizing this non-minister program, CLINIC attorneys suggest reviewing the case files of foreign religious workers to identify these non-ministers and begin the permanent residence process for them as soon as possible.  It would be best to put priority on those religious workers who have been in the U.S. for several years and will soon reach the maximum of five years allowed in R-1 status.   Please contact your CLINIC attorney with any questions regarding how the sunset provisions could affect your organization. 


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Rita Dhakal Celebrates Five-Year Anniversary at CLINIC

Rita Dhakal joined the Religious Immigration Section of CLINIC in June 2009.  She currently works with Attorney Megan Turngren to help to provide legal services to RIS clients.  In addition, Rita volunteers with Legal Services of Northern Virginia, where she interviews clients for case intake and placement for the Uncontested Divorce Clinic. 

Rita’s interest in immigration began before she came to the United States.  In Nepal, she served refugee settlement and community-based organizations through UNCHCR-funded projects.  Then, prior to joining CLINIC, Rita provided administrative and legal support to private immigration firms in Northern Virginia.  In 2007, Rita earned a Paralegal Certificate from George Mason University.  Also, from 2007 to 2008, she worked for the Center for Applied Linguistics where she translated and reviewed material in English and Nepali for use in refugee cultural orientation. 


How would you describe your time working for RIS?

Challenging, fast-paced, and a motivated environment to reach our goals.


What inspires you to work in immigration? 

I have had a long immigration history, which helps me to provide better service for other immigrants.  I also enjoy the day-to-day process of working with other people on their immigration journey.


What was the most challenging part of your immigration journey? 

It took a long time to complete the green card process.  I spent seven years in Nepal with my child while my husband was already in the United States. 


What do you enjoy most about working with RIS? 

We are given trust and independence, which helps to motivate us to fulfill our mission.


Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Biratnagar, Nepal.  Biratnagar is a sub-metropolitan city located in southeast Nepal.  Biratnagar is Nepal’s fourth largest city, with a total area of 58.48 km and a population of 261,125.  It also touches the border of India, which makes it a major center for cross-border trade and commerce.  It is an agricultural place because it lies in the terai region, which is also called the granary of Nepal.

As a child, I was educated by nuns because I attended a convent school.  Because of my background, I feel a connection with our clients.  In my job now, I have the opportunity to learn so much more about the lives of the religious sisters.  I feel fortunate that I get to work with the same kind of people that I grew up with. 


If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go?

Back to Nepal to enjoy the view of the mountains and recall childhood memories.


What are your favorite things to do when you’re not at work?

I enjoy organizing and participating in cultural and religious functions.  I also volunteer with nonprofit organizations.


What is your hidden talent?

This summer, for our office picnic, I was encouraged to hold a Henna tattoo program. (Henna tattoos are a fun and safe way to create beautiful, temporary designs on the body.)  It was a nice opportunity for me to explore the beauty of henna art and share it with my coworkers.


What is the best advice you've ever received?

Patience is the mother of virtue.


RIS Staff Retreat – Fall 2014

By Minyoung Ohm

RIS Attorney


The Religious Immigration Section held an annual staff retreat on October 16, 2014.  The attorneys and legal assistants left the hustle and bustle of our Silver Spring office and settled into a small and quiet conference room in Saint Paul’s College in Washington D.C.  Our second annual retreat gave the staff an opportunity to take a break our daily work and concentrate on the big picture of how our section fits into CLINIC as a whole. 

 We began the day by having breakfast together and playing ice-breaker games before launching into the agenda of the day.  Then, Miguel Naranjo, our section director, gave us some updates on our section’s activities and achievements for the year.  Then, we had a short presentation on CLINIC’s Catholic Identity and Values, which led to a small group discussion on how the Religious Immigration Section can better reflect CLINIC’s Catholic Values in our daily practice of immigration law.  Afterwards, we had lunch in the cafeteria of Saint Paul’s College, generously offered by the Paulist Fathers. 

 We came back together after the lunch break to hold a brainstorming session.  We discussed how we can create a better understanding of the Religious Immigration Section both within and outside of CLINIC.   We also reviewed our goals and strategic planning documents from previous years.  Through our discussions, all staff members had the opportunity to add their valuable input.  We also took time to reflect on how we can improve our work while maintaining the passion that we have for serving our clients.  The retreat provided an opportunity for us to bond together and come back to our work with renewed energy and fresh ideas.




A Note of Thanks

By Miguel Naranjo

RIS Director


At this time of the year I always find myself reflecting on the past 11 months.  I look back at the things we accomplished, the things that did not turn out so well, and on how we might do things differently in the New Year.  In addition, I also feel grateful for many things in life, including how fortunate I am to be working at CLINIC with the Religious Immigration Services (RIS) section

I want to thank YOU, the RIS client, for allowing us to serve you this past year.  We feel honored to work with you and know that our role, though important, is minor compared to the work and service YOU, our religious worker clients, perform daily.  We always find ourselves amazed at our clients; from their backgrounds and stories on how they entered religious life to the impact they are having on communities here in the U.S.  You are truly inspiring and we want you to know how grateful we feel working with you and knowing that our service plays a role in your ministry in the U.S. 

We have had many successes this year and many challenges as well.  We have helped seminarians, deacons, priests, postulants, novices, vowed religious sisters and brothers, and other religious workers enter the U.S. to serve the Church.  There are many stories, but one that stands out in my mind is that of a religious sister whom we assisted with naturalization.  Helping her obtain her U.S. Citizenship left quite the impression on the RIS attorney who handled her case and on me as well when she came to our office to say thank you.  She expressed such appreciation for our help but we were the ones who felt truly honored to help her reach this achievement.  Thank you again, RIS clients, and we look forward to serving you in the New Year. 

Finally, I wish to thank my entire staff for their work this year.  We were very busy this year and the attorneys and legal assistants were exceptional.  I cannot say thank you enough for your work and service to our clients.  Happy Holidays to everyone and Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!


CLINIC Resources for Administrative Relief

On November 20, 2014, President Obama announced a major immigration policy change that would grant millions of individuals (without legal status in the U.S.) temporary stay from deportation and the opportunity to apply for work authorization.   This administrative relief would be valid for three years.  The executive action contains several initiatives including:


  • Expansion of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) – The DACA program will now expand the eligibility criteria  to those who came to the U.S. before turning 16 years old and have been present since 01/01/2010 (the “under 31” age requirement has been eliminated).


  • Creation of a new program called Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA) – Parents of U.S. Citizens and lawful permanent residents who have been in the U.S. since 01/01/2010 would be eligible for relief and work authorization for three years provided they pass background checks.


The new programs have not yet started, but we wanted to remind you that the Religious Immigration Services (RIS) section of CLINIC already provides DACA services to its religious organizational clients and we will expand our services to include these new programs.  You may have members or other religious workers who serve your organization that will be eligible for these benefits.  We will be available to help you with these new immigration processes.  Finally, we want to take this time to remind you to beware of anyone who offers to help you submit an application or a request for any of these new benefits before they are available. 


In the upcoming days and weeks, we will be sharing updates regarding these programs as they become available.  In addition, CLINIC has compiled numerous online resources that are solely focused on providing the most up-to-date information about these new programs.  



CLINIC Newsletter - November 2014 - VOL. XVIII No. 11

 In this issue…                       

BIA Issues Three Decisions on Recognition and Accreditation

Haitian Family Reunification Program To Be Implemented in 2015

News From the Catholic Network

Update from Ciudad Juarez  


Immigration Updates

Law and Practice Feature

Question Corner

Technical Assistance and Trainings


Position Openings


Visa Bulletin                                                                                                                                                             

Resources by type: 

Welcome, Robyn McCormick!

Robyn McCormick joined the Religious Immigration Section of CLINIC in June 2014.  She is working with Attorney Kate Kuznetsova to help provide legal services to RIS clients.

Prior to joining CLINIC, Robyn worked for a law firm in New York City as an Immigration Paralegal focusing on non-immigrant visa applications, employment-based immigrant visa applications, and family-based immigrant visa applications.  In 2012, to further her education in the law, she obtained her Associates Degree in Paralegal Studies.  Additionally, Robyn has over 17 years experience as a Legal Assistant.  She has worked for law offices in London, England, as well as Cape Town and Johannesburg in South Africa. 


Q. In five words or less, how would you describe your time working for RIS?

            A. Rewarding, interesting, fulfilling and BUSY!


Q. What inspires you to work in immigration? 

A.I love helping people reach their goals, both personal and professional.  I can identify with people going through the immigration process - I know what it's like, being an immigrant myself.  I feel this makes me better at my job.  


Q. What do you enjoy most about working with RIS so far? 

A. All the wonderful people I have met!


Q. Where did you grow up? 

A. I grew up on a farm about 15km outside of Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu Natal, South Africa.  Pietermaritzburg is the capital city of KwaZulu Natal Province and is located on the East Coast of South Africa.  It is approximately 100 km inland from Durban and the Indian Ocean. 


Q. If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go?

A. There are many places I would love to go, but right now, my first choice would be to travel the Croatian Coastline!


Q. What are your favorite things to do when you’re not at work?

A. I love to bike, hike, run, practice Bikram Yoga, read, and, of course, spend time with my wonderful husband.


Q. What is the best advice you've ever received?

A. Always believe in your ability to reach your goals and to never give up until you reach them!


USCIS to Increase Number of Site Visits

As you may be aware, part of the immigration process of sponsoring international religious workers to the U.S. involves a site visit from USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services).  This is required per the immigration regulations and is used to verify the elements of the petition filed by the sponsor (including sponsor and beneficiary information, work location, etc.).  These site visits may occur with advance notice or without any notice at all. 

We have recently learned that USCIS plans to expand unannounced site visits to religious organization sponsors.  Thus, you should prepare your office and/or parish (or other beneficiary work location) for the possibility of a USCIS site visit.  Please contact our office if you have any questions about this or how to best prepare.


Preparing For Post-Adjudication Site Visits 

Since post-adjudication site visits occur after an I-129 petition for a nonimmigrant religious worker is already approved, one might not immediately recognize their importance. However, as discussed below, failure to fully appreciate a site visit can have serious consequences, not only for the foreign national but even for the sponsoring religious organization.

It is important to keep in mind the overall purpose of post-adjudication site visits. Broadly speaking, it is to detect and deter fraud in obtaining immigration benefits. Thus, visits are normally conducted by the Fraud Detection and National Security (FDNS) unit of the local USCIS field office. Practically speaking, this means that all supporting information used to obtain the underlying I-129 approval is "fair game" for scrutiny and questioning on a site visit. 

Petitioners should always be prepared for an unannounced site visit.  Site visits can be triggered by information in the petition, information from an outside source, or by just random selection. However, post-adjudication site visits are not exclusively physical inspections. Recently, we have confirmed with many religious organizations that the USCIS is also conducting visits by telephone and email. But regardless of the manner, one thing for sure is that site visits are on the rise. Since the USCIS typically does not provide any advance notice, it is best practice to treat each day as a potential site visit day. 

As mentioned, the purpose of a site visit is fraud detection. Typically, the USCIS will want to confirm that the petitioning religious organization is a bona-fide religious entity, that the religious worker is in fact working at the location stated on the petition, and that the religious worker’s stated duties and compensation information is accurate. If an inspector notes inconsistencies between the petition and what they see on their visit, they may revoke and terminate an approved petition. Given this risk, we strongly advise our clients to expect questions about the underlying information for their approved I-129. Of course, it is important to remember that site visits should not be "fishing expeditions". Questions should be limited to the specific foreign national and should also be confined to the legal requirements for R-1 status (and not other statuses or benefits). 

Recently, we've learned that the USCIS has hired private contractors for site visits. Because the contractors are presumably not experts at immigration law, clients should be prepared to deal with individuals with a less-than-complete understanding of the requirements of R-1 status. Despite any frustration this may cause, it is important to be professional, respectful, and compliant with the representative's requests. 

Given the recent trend of site visits by phone and email, petitioners and beneficiaries should make sure they provide the most up-to-date phone number and email address when filing the I-129 petition. In addition, since phone and email site visits may require responses to requests for information and/or documents within 3-5 business days, petitioners and beneficiaries should regularly check their phone messages and emails. As an automatic rule, you should immediately contact your attorney whenever contacted by USCIS officers. In case the petitioner or beneficiary plans to be out of town, there should be a designated person to monitor calls, emails and handle physical visits in their absence.


Best practices:

In order to prepare for a post-adjudication site visit, the petitioning religious organization should:

  • Assign a designated person at the petitioner’s headquarters as the “go-to” person for USCIS site visits.
  • Inform reception staff and other personnel to direct the USCIS officer to the designated person.
  • Keep copies of all I-129 petitions, any updated immigration documents (i.e., new I-94s) and current religious organization documents (i.e., recent financial records), and maintain these copies so that they are easily accessible and identifiable in the event of a site visit.


During the post-adjudication site visit:

  • Always request the name, title, and contact information for the USCIS officer and ask for his/her business card.
  • Take detailed notes of all information and documents requested by the USCIS officer. 
  • Whenever possible, consult your attorney before providing information and documents to the USCIS officer.


Resources by type: 

The Impact of Artesia: One Volunteer’s Story

By Angelia Amaya

RIS Legal Assistant


I was recently afforded the opportunity to go out to Artesia, New Mexico to assist the team of immigration attorneys that are providing free legal services to the over 500 detained women and children from Central America.  I would be remiss if I were to say that I was not profoundly affected by my experience at the Artesia, New Mexico detention center.  Artesia is a small, oil town with about 12,000 residents and is about 8 square miles in the northwestern part of the state, pretty much in the middle of nowhere.  Interestingly, Artesia is home to the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) where training is provided to the United States Border Patrol, B.I.A. Police and the U.S. Air Marshalls.  And this is where the detention center which houses the women and children who have fled their homes in Central America due abject poverty, and increased violence are being held.  Many of the women are victims of spousal abuse and sexual assaults and most of children have suffered unimaginable abuse and neglect.  Domestic violence has risen at an unimaginable rate, and one word resounds loud and clear, and it is fear.

In an effort to provide sufficient due process to the detainees who are calling the Artesia Detention Center home, a team of attorneys from places like El Paso, Denver, Miami, Portland, and Washington, D.C. have assembled to provide free legal services so that as many cases as possible are heard by an immigration judge (IJ). Before these attorneys arrived, many of these asylum seekers were be deported back to their home countries, back into harm’s way.  Over the past month many of the detainees have bonded out and are now with family or family friends who are working to help these individuals turn their lives around.

During my time in Artesia, I attended a Legal Orientation Program (LOP) meeting.  The objective of this meeting was to provide information regarding the immigration options available to these women and children.  Our group had to be escorted into the facility by an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) member.  The children, the few that I came in contact with, I will never forget.  Their beautiful smiles, their attempts to entertain themselves or younger siblings were simply heartwarming.  While there were no visible signs of toys, books, or activities for them, although I do understand that these things are available, they seemed perfectly happy chasing each other around.  The median age of children here is six, so you can imagine the energy levels that those poor mothers are trying to keep under control in this desolate place they must call home. 

Many challenges have arisen since the arrival of these women and children in Artesia.  Many of the children are ill, some more than others.  While there is an on-site medical facility, many of the children need to be seen by an off-site physician.  Unfortunately, services are often refused at the local doctor’s offices and hospitals.  When a child fortunate enough to be seen, the women are reporting that the post-visit instructions are often confiscated upon return to the detention center, leaving the mother without proof of her child’s illness and more importantly without the steps to help her child get better. 

Another issue that the Artesia team has faced is that the detainees are reporting being denied both telephone rights and visitation rights.  Many of these detainees have family that have traveled great distances to see and support them, families that want to have them released so that they can help them begin to heal the scars of abuse and neglect that have sent them to the United States seeking asylum.  Thankfully, since my return to my office, I have heard that a calling card program has been put into place and measures are being taken for visitation rights. 

Lastly, there is often a language barrier when a consultation takes place or when a case is being heard by an immigration judge.  There are a number of women whose native language is not Spanish.  Attorneys are most often encountering Mam, a language spoken in Guatemala. Other indigenous languages are K’che’ (or Quiché) spoken both in Mexico and Guatemala, Nauhtl, an Aztec language, spoken primarily in Mexico, also in El Salvador and Guatemala, and Ch’orti’, a Mayan language, spoken in both Guatemala and Honduras. More interpreters are now either volunteering their services during interviews and hearings or are being appointed by the Federal Government during hearings.  Breaking this language barrier is allowing for the cases to be heard in a more timely matter and is resulting in detainees bonding out and leaving the detention center, a victory for the Artesia team each and every time.

This team of attorneys from Colorado, Texas, Florida, Oregon, and Washington, D.C., to name but a few places, have done an amazing job of representing these detained people.  The emotional toll it has taken is visible each and every day after seeing clients and arguing cases, often 12-15 hours a day.  It wasn’t uncommon to have an attorney break down in tears recapping a case they were preparing.  Every victory, no matter how small, has been and continues to be encouraging.  To date, several astronomically high bonds have been reduced to a more affordable rate; phone cards have been distributed to some of the detainees so that phone calls may be placed; more interpreters are being provided; several cases have been transferred to Denver, Colorado where they are being heard by judges who are considered politically independent of the immigration crisis; many detainees are beginning to be released to relatives here in the United States; most importantly, the presence of the Artesia team has slowed down the rate of deportation.  Their empathy, dedication, conviction and compassion are immeasurable.  This experience is forever etched in my mind, and if I were asked to do it again, my answer would be a resounding yes.


The Immigration Journey of Br. Ramon Flores

In 1990, I was born in Mexico into a staunchly Roman Catholic family. When I was twelve years old, my immediate family illegally migrated to California.  We have lived there ever since.

From an early age I've hoped and dreamed of becoming a Catholic priest. Priesthood was often on my mind and in my prayers.  My Mom used to buy me communion wafers, so I could pretend celebrating Mass with my friends and cousins. The Catholic faith has always been part and parcel of my family's routine life.  Since I was a baby in my Mom's arms, I attended Sunday Mass. My Mom and Dad were always concerned that we had a Christian education.

Being an undocumented immigrant family brought additional family struggles.  Our Catholic faith as supported by our local parish showed me Our Loving Jesus in action. During my school years, I became more and more involved in my Parish, aware that the Lord was calling me to assist others in need.  Fortunately, I had the opportunity to meet some Missionary Servant priests who helped me to discern the Lord's call in my life.   These priests told me about the charism and the history of their Community, and this further prompted my interest.  At this time, I started to realize that the Lord had a special mission just for me. I sought further counsel to confirm exactly what it was.  In Compton, I began volunteering at Sacred Heart Church, which was staffed by the Missionary Servants.  I taught religious education and helped in other ministries. I was blessed with three mentors: Monsignor John S. Woolway, Father John Seymour, S.T, and Margarita Flores, M. Div.

After working in parish ministries for some time, I experienced a religious awakening.  The Good Shepherd really was calling me by name to study for the priesthood.  Who was I to put off The Almighty, so I immediately answered, “Where and when should I begin?”

Due to my illegal status in the U.S I was unable to pursue studies toward the priesthood here. After months of intense personal prayer and family consultation, I decided to leave my family and pursue my priestly calling outside the US.  This was a very difficult decision because I knew I would be barred from entering the U.S for ten years and my family would not be able to travel to see me.

In January 2010, I went to Costa Rica to begin my studies toward the priesthood with the Missionary Servants of the Most Holy Trinity.  There I spent two years and a half studying philosophy and working with the very poor.  I helped provide food and education for destitute communities.  It was an extremely humbling and valuable experience which helped confirm my determination to spend my life in service to others.  In July 2012, I left Costa Rica to enter the S.T. novitiate in Mexico.  The novitiate year is dedicated to prayer, reflection and further discernment. 

After my novitiate year and profession of vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, my Religious Community asked me to continue the theological studies in New Jersey, in order to be closer to my family.  But, as I mentioned before, I was barred from the United States because of my previous unlawful presence.  My Religious Community contacted CLINIC for legal assistance.  Our General Secretary connected me to a CLINIC attorney.  After some weeks of communication by email, in August 2013, the attorney began the Waiver and Student Visa process with the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City.  While I was waiting in Mexico City, I started my studies in theology and I worked with our mission in Chimalhucan, Mexico. My primary ministry in Chimalhucan was visiting families and forming Christian communities.

After months with no word from the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City, my superiors decided to send me to Colombia to continue the theological studies. But a near miracle happened: three days before traveling to Colombia, the U.S Embassy sent me an email asking for my Mexican passport to complete the waiver and visa process. You cannot image my joy and relief. It was an answer to prayer. I’m eternally grateful to my Community and CLINIC.  Without their legal assistance I would not be in the U.S studying theology.  Additionally I was able to travel to California during Spring Break to visit my family after nearly five years. Praise be God!


With sincerely appreciation to my Religious Community and CLINIC,

Br. Ramon Flores, S.T.

Resources by type: 

RIS Attorneys Hit the Road!

This summer, several attorneys in the Religious Immigration Section of CLINIC had the opportunity to travel and meet with their clients.  The funding for this special endeavor was provided by a grant from the Open Society Foundation.  These trips provided the attorneys with the chance to meet with clients, provide information regarding religious worker immigration and the need for immigration reform, and also help to foster understanding of CLINIC’s mission.


Attorney Kate Kuznetsova

Ms. Kuznetsova visited the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, Texas in August.  Every year, the Oblate School of Theology runs a two -week acculturation program for their foreign-born priests and Ms. Kuznetsova was happy to be able to participate in this event.  She presented an Introduction to Religious Immigration to a group of approximately ten foreign-born priests from various countries including Zambia, Philippines, India, and Tanzania.  The priests are primarily serving in the Diocese of Salina, the Diocese of Fort Worth, the Diocese of Oklahoma, and the Archdiocese of Mobile. 

Additionally, in June, Ms. Kuznetsova visited a long-time RIS client, the Missionary Society of St. Paul of Nigeria in Houston, Texas.  While there, Ms. Kuznetsova was able to meet with the clients to discuss case issues.  The following day, she, along with RIS Attorney Minyoung Ohm, presented to a diverse group on Religious Immigration Law, F-1 Student Visas, and undocumented immigrants.  The audience included current RIS Clients, people from local seminaries, as well as other religious communities in the area.


Attorney Megan Turngren

In June, Ms. Turngren had the opportunity to travel to New England for a presentation at the Pastoral Center for the Archdiocese of Boston.  The presentation covered the basics of Religious Immigration Law, as well as important reminders for R-1 petitioners.  The crowd of attendees included representatives from many different departments in the Archdiocese, as well as members of several local religious communities.

 Jane Devlin, Special Assistant to Canonical Affairs in the Archdiocese, provided Ms. Turngren with a well-planned schedule and abundant hospitality while she was visiting the area.  Thanks to Ms. Devlin’s efforts to coordinate with many different groups, Ms. Turngren was able to have separate meetings with many different departments in the Archdiocese to address individual concerns regarding the immigration process for foreign-born religious workers.  Ms. Turngren appreciates the valuable time that each person took from their hectic schedule to attend the presentation and meet with her afterward.   


Resources by type: 

Connecting with Clients

By Minyoung Ohm

RIS Staff Attorney


During the summer, I had the privilege of visiting one of CLINIC’s long-time clients, the Congregation of Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word, Houston, Texas.  The Congregation provides ministries to people with AIDS, the elderly, orphans and others through education, health care, social justice and literacy work within the United States, as well as Guatemala, El Salvador, Ireland, and Kenya.   I have prepared a number of R-1 petitions and visa applications for the Congregation’s foreign-born Religious Sisters so that they can enter the U.S. to perform ministries and pursue their religious vocation.   


When I arrived at the Congregation’s motherhouse, I was warmly greeted by the Congregation’s general secretary with whom I have been exchanging many emails and phone calls but I had never met face to face.  It was very delightful to speak in person and be introduced to the other members of the Congregation whose names were very familiar to me.  I was invited to have lunch with the general secretary and other Council members of the Congregation.  One of the Council members was a Religious Sister from Guatemala whose face I instantly recognized from the copy of her passport photo that I had in her CLINIC file.


Then I was given a tour of the Congregation’s motherhouse building, its chapel (so rich in history and pleasing to the eye!), the Council members’ offices, and the residence for the religious sisters.  Over the years, I have collected many photos, utility bills, deed, and other documents relating to the Congregation’s motherhouse in order to provide evidence of the Congregation’s bona fide religious activities to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).  It was fascinating to see the actual building and the grounds, which were more beautiful than I had seen in the pictures.  I also obtained a better understanding of the daily activities for religious sisters who reside there. 


After the tour, I sat down with the Council members to discuss some pending issues regarding R-1 status and permanent residence plans for certain members of the Congregation.  I discussed the increased site visits by USCIS on religious organizations and foreign nationals, and addressed the Congregation’s leader’s concerns and questions regarding these site visits. I was also given several of the Congregation’s newsletters, which contained personal and moving stories of some foreign-born religious sisters who arrived in the U.S. and eventually professed perpetual religious vows with the Congregation.  (I prepared all of their R-1 petitions and visa applications.)


On the returning flight back home, I read these stories with much pleasure and interest.  One story was about a Sister who was born in El Salvador who received the desire to join the religious life at age of 17 and started the religious formation process right after finishing high school.  Another story was about a Kenyan Sister who grew up in the outskirts of Nairobi City but rose to be the first girl to be educated in her village.  When she chose the path of religious vocation, she faced some dubious feelings from her village neighbors who thought that joining a religious life was a waste but she overcame the challenges with prayers.  After reading these stories, I was reminded of the value that CLINIC brings to the religious communities here in the U.S. as well as the religious workers abroad.  I am grateful for the opportunity to serve these religious sisters and for having been a part of their journey. 


Resources by type: 

The Immigration Journey of Br. Peduru Fonseka

Br. Peduru Fonseka

My immigration story started in 2002 when I decided to come to United States from Sri Lanka to do my higher studies. Even applying for a Student visa was not easy. There was much paperwork and proofs of financial support and so many other documents I had to present to the embassy to get my F1 visa. I remember sitting there in the waiting room very nervous for the first time for the visa interview. Out of the thirty or so people who showed up that morning for visa interviews, there were only three of us who got their visas. I felt like I was lucky to receive my student visa in my first try.

Then, during my college years as a student, I always had to make sure I took at least 12 credit hours each semester to keep my immigration status in good standing. From the start, I knew being in another country away from my home is not easy. There was a certain amount of pressure and challenges of being an immigrant in a foreign country. Coming to United States in 2002, I did not expect to live here forever. I thought I would finish my Engineering Studies and gain some work experience and go back home to Sri Lanka. Since in my family it was only me and my older sister, I always felt like it was my duty to take care of my parents one day when they get older.

However, as God always has his plans for each of us, during my college years, I start developing a desire for the priesthood and religious life. After spending some time discerning my vocation, I finally decided to take the next step and answer God's call for me to be a Benedictine monk. When I contacted the vocation directors, Fr. Anthony and Br. John Mark at Saint Meinrad, I explained to them that I am an international who was working fulltime with an H1B visa at that time. The monastery did not have any experience in quite a while with a situation where they accepted a foreign national. So it was a new experience for both Br. John Mark, as a new Vocation Director at the time, and me. At the start of my discernment, I prayed to God and said I have no clue where you are taking me right now, but I am offering this whole process to your hands and I know you will take care of everything.

When I transferred my immigration status from F1 to H1B, it was a more tedious application process than a simple F1 student visa. Therefore, I expected that getting an R1 visa could be even more tedious and much paperwork.

After some research, Br. John Mark found out about CLINIC. He took the initiative to contact the excellent lawyers at CLINIC and they helped us to gather the required documents to file for an R1 visa. I felt like God answered my prayers. CLINIC took care of all the legal paperwork and the application process for us. It helped me to put my energy and due attention for my discernment into the religious life rather than being busy and worried about a mountain load of paperwork and legal matters. The CLINIC lawyers were very organized and took care of the application process in a timely manner. At one point of my R1 Visa, the INS took longer time to reply than we expected. The lawyers from CLINIC stayed on top of my application status by communicating back and forth with the state officials.

Then, when the government decided to send a letter that they intended to deny my application, the lawyers from CLINIC assured me that everything will be fine and they will do what is needed to take care of the matter. CLINIC did provide more information as the government requested and finally I was cleared to join the monastery in May 2011. Then the monastery decided that they would sponsor me for the next step of the process, which was getting my green card. So we contacted our lawyer, Ms. Megan Turngren in CLINIC, to ask for their help with this immigration process.

As usual, even with the green card process, CLINIC helped us from the beginning to the end. They always kept both Br. John Mark and me updated on the process. They were very thorough with the paperwork and very organized. The monastery and I did not have to worry about anything other than just getting the necessary documents to the CLINIC lawyers and putting our signatures on the application forms. It did ease the trouble of legal matters.

I am thankful for the legal team in CLINIC for their efficient work and their excellent service. Thanks to their hard work, after twelve years of being an international, I finally received my green card on February of this year.


The Immigration Journey of Fr. Gustavo Adolfo Montañez

Father Gustavo

 I believe that dreams come true and that a good dream becomes true life. Without dreams, all we have is reality. Sometimes on our most important dreams, all we can do is give them our best shot, hope for the highest good, and let go. Knowing I could use all the help available, I contacted CLINIC to fulfill my dream in becoming a Citizen of United States of America. 

My name is Fr. Gustavo Adolfo Montañez and this is my story. My dream started when I was living in my birth country, Colombia. After I finished my bachelors degree in Business Administration, I wanted to study Theology and learn English as a second language. It is what brought me to the United States of America. I made my dream up. 

I am passionate about preaching to people and being a Catholic priest. I am grateful to the Dominican Friars for the formation and training. Being a priest and dominican friar, I have the opportunity to preach the good news to the people of God and to preside them sacramentally. I preside at the worship and prayer in the community and minister them liturgically, according with their needs. I assist the congregation in the celebration of the Eucharist. It is a gift, a gift of my vocation, that I have been able to share with others. 

CLINIC made this possible. In this process of training, formation and ministering to the people of God, I needed to be legal in the country. CLINIC helped me to get the R-1 Visa. Being in this status, I was able to interact with people with different backgrounds and education, bringing the Word of God into their lives, giving them a word of hope, faith and strength in the middle of their circumstances. 

Being a deacon and a priest, CLINIC gave me a new status as Permanent Resident and recently, a Citizen of United States of America. During these years of formation and work in pastoral ministry, I have learned that a priest should never omit an opportunity for preaching. I believe that no one can constantly preach the Word of God without being transformed by the Word I preach. It is precisely in pastoral ministry and preaching that I have been touch by people lives with their joys, sufferings and struggles. 

Because of this, I have a new dream. As Mother Teresa said: “To keep a lamp burning, we have to keep putting oil in it.” My dream is that I want to be a Chaplain in the Armed Forces. It is in ministry working with the people of God, in the church, that I have been called to work in a specific ministry and this ministry is in the Armed Forces. It is a ministry that I want to pursue and to focus on. It is a personal ministry of presence, caring for the needs of Catholic military personnel and their families.

In order to pursue my dream, I left the Dominican Friars and asked for incardination in the Archdioceses of San Antonio. I am in this process of incardination and work in Notre Dame Catholic Church in Kerville, TX at the present time. I continue in prayer to fulfill my dream. 

United States is my home and I have achieved all my dreams in this country with prayer, love, sacrifice, strength, patience, but above all with good attitude. Our attitudes and beliefs impact our thoughts and feelings, which in turn, shape our choices and decisions. Beliefs either move us forward or hold us back, but what many of us forget is that we choose what we believe. 

For those who are reading my story, let me tell you these words quoting Harriet Tubman: “Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.”



Immigration Options for Seminarians

By: Minyoung Ohm


Many seminarians will be graduating this spring and will become ordained priests and deacons.  For some foreign-born seminarians on student visas, this is the time when they decide what immigration status is best suited for their future employment.  Typically, a seminarian switches to R-1 religious worker status because he will be assigned to perform priestly duties at local parishes and churches.  Unlike an F-1 student visa, an R-1 visa falls in the employment-based visa category.   Therefore, an employer (whether it be a Diocese or a religious community) must file an I-129 petition with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) attesting that it is offering a job to the seminarian and the seminarian will be compensated for his services.


When to File a Change of Status

An I-129 petition to change status should be filed as early as possible so that when a seminarian graduates, he can seamlessly jump into parish work without unnecessary delay.   Typically, I-129 petitions take approximately 4-5 months to be adjudicated.  In addition, students cannot start working and getting paid until the I-129 petition is approved.  USCIS makes premium processing available (adjudication within 15 days of filing) only to religious organizations that have been previously verified by USCIS.  The request for premium processing must be accompanied by extra filing fee of $1,225 in addition to the regular filing fee of $325, making it financially burdensome for some organizations.


Traveling Abroad after Changing Status

Seminarians often travel abroad after they graduate to celebrate their ordination with their family members back home.  It is important to note that changing status to R-1 by filing an I-129 petition only grants R-1 “status” inside the United States.  If the seminarian travels abroad and only has an F-1 student visa in their passport, he will need to apply for a new R-1 visa before coming back to the U.S.  Applying for a new visa will require the seminarian to attend a visa interview in person at an appropriate U.S. Consulate in his home country.  Before granting an R-1 visa, the consular officer will verify that the seminarian has an approved I-129 petition filed by his employer.


Optional Practical Training

Optional Practical Training, or “OPT”, allows a seminarian to hold a job after graduation for one year and get paid while still being in F-1 student status.  OPT is useful in that it allows a student to explore a job opportunity and gain practical experience in the U.S. without having to worry about changing status.  The OPT program can also serve as a trial period for employers who want to hire a seminarian but are not yet ready to commit money and efforts to changing the status of a student.  

If a student is interested in OPT, the seminarian should speak with the designated school official at the school where the student is enrolled.  Once the school approves OPT program for a graduating student, the seminarian will need to apply for an employment authorization card with USCIS.  The application for the employment authorization can take up to 3 months.  It is important to remember that the seminarian cannot begin working for the religious organization until he receives the employment authorization card.


We congratulate the accomplishments of the seminarians who are graduating this year. If you need assistance in changing the immigration status for your seminarians, please reach out to the attorneys in the Religious Immigration Services section of CLINIC.  We are happy to help facilitate this transition as smoothly

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Understanding Immigration Expiration Dates

By: Megan S. Turngren


With multiple agencies issuing different immigration paperwork for the R-1 process, it can often be difficult to understand the importance of each document.  However, even though it may seem complicated, it is always very important to note the expiration dates of the I-129 approval notice, the R-1 visa, and the I-94.  In many cases, these three items will each have different expiration dates.  This discrepancy is due to the fact that each of these documents is issued by a different government agency. 

The R-1 process begins by filing an I-129 petition with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).  For a religious worker, the immigration process always begins with USCIS.  Once this petition is approved, a foreign national is issued an approval notice. 

Then, the foreign national will take this approval notice, along with other supporting documentation, to a visa interview at a consulate outside the United States.  The United States consulates and embassies around the world are actually operated by the Department of State (DOS), which is a separate section of the U.S. government. 

When the visa is approved, there is often confusion regarding the expiration date of the visa.  Most people assume that the visa would be valid for the entire time period of the I-129 approval notice.  However, since these two steps are done by different government agencies, there is no guarantee that the visa will be valid for the entire time period issued in the approval notice.

The actual expiration date of the visa is determined by the Department of State’s visa reciprocity schedule.  The reciprocity schedule is in place to provide similar treatment for foreign nationals coming to the United States as U.S. citizens are granted when they travel abroad.  This means that the fee and time period authorized for a foreign national to obtain an R-1 visa should be similar to that offered to a U.S. citizen religious worker traveling to the foreign national’s country of citizenship. 

It is important to remember that the visa reciprocity is based upon the foreign national’s country of citizenship.  The visa time period does not change based upon where the foreign national applies for a visa.  For example, Mexican nationals are only issued R-1 visas for one year.  If a Mexican national applies for an R-1 visa in Canada, he or she will still only be issued a visa for one year.  The question is not where the visa is applied for but where the foreign national holds citizenship. 

Then, after entering the United States, the foreign national will be issued an electronic I-94 by Customs and Border Protection (CBP).  This is the third government agency involved in the religious worker’s journey to the United States.  The I-94 issued may have a separate expiration date from both the I-129 approval notice and visa. 

However, the I-94 should be issued for at least as long as the I-129 approval notice.  Sometimes, this can create confusion because a CBP worker may only issue an I-94 through the expiration of the visa.  Again, while many are allowed a R-1 visa for the full 30 months, some foreign nationals are issued shorter visas.  This means that a Mexican national could potentially be issued an I-94 that is only valid for one year due to the expiration date on his or her visa. 

In the event that the I-94 is issued for a shorter period of time than the initial I-129 approval notice, the foreign national should make plans to immediately visit a CBP Deferred Inspection Site to have the I-94 corrected.  It is important to check the hours and location for the individual offices on the CBP website.  Also, it is a good practice to call ahead to ask if there are specific times when a person can come to have an I-94 amended.  This will help to prevent a wasted trip to the local office.   

Please remember that it is important to keep track of the expiration dates for both the visa and the I-94.  The two items do not serve the same purpose and are not interchangeable.  The visa allows a foreign national to enter the United States.  The I-94 actually serves as proof that the foreign national is in lawful R-1 status.  If a nonimmigrant religious worker (“R-1”) leaves the United States, he or she cannot reenter without a valid visa.  Alternatively, even if a foreign national has a visa that is valid for several years, he or she can only legally remain in the United States through the expiration date of the I-94.  However, this issue comes up more frequently with visitors (“B-1 / B-2”) than it does with religious workers (“R-1”).

If you are unsure about the expiration dates of your immigration paperwork, we are happy to provide guidance.  Please contact Religious Immigration Services to set up a consultation so that we can answer your questions regarding these important expiration dates and how they can affect you.


In order to determine the visa reciprocity schedule for each country, please visit the Department of State’s visa reciprocity website.  This link provides information regarding the fees and the time period allowed for different types of visas. 


For information regarding deferred inspection, including a list of deferred inspection sites, please visit the Customs and Border Protection website.



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The Immigration Journey of Sr. Bertha L. Montiel STJ

I was born in Managua, Nicaragua, the second of 5 children. I was about 15 months old when I had my first contact with the United States of America. This happened through my father returning home after spending a year at the University of Florida, Gainsville in a graduate course of Sanitary Engineering. He admired this country and its people and he taught his wife and children to love and admire it too.  I remember that he used to shave early in the morning while listening to Good Morning America and the voice of the United States of America. He wanted his family to learn English and he made sure we studied it at school. We spent many evenings listening to him reading us stories from his English collection while he encouraged us to study hard to be able to read them ourselves. I was 15 years old the first time I came to this country with my mother as a birthday present.

Following my Dad’s footsteps, I studied Civil Engineering at The National University of Nicaragua. After graduating I came to the United States for a short course at the University of Missouri. But it was 5 years later that I came for a longer stay in San Antonio, Texas. After 6 years in this career, I discovered that the Lord Jesus was calling me to follow him in the Religious life. So I was admitted in the Society of Saint Teresa of Jesus and came to the Novitiate. It was March 1979 and a revolution was going on in Nicaragua.

My father was a public servant and he was subject to threats and abuse by the new Sandinist government officials. So when he came with my mother to attend the ceremony of my reception of the religious habit, I convinced them to file for asylum because their lives were in danger and they could not stand the situation in Nicaragua any more. In the following years, the rest of my family migrated to this country.

After finishing my formation at the Novitiate and making my first vows, I was sent back to Nicaragua.  For 27 years, my mission developed in different schools and pastoral projects in Nicaragua and Costa Rica. I used to come to the United States every year or two to visit my parents.

In the year 2001, my father suffered an aneurysm rupture and had to undergo two surgeries and several months of rehabilitation, so I stayed a little longer to help my mother to take care of him. When his condition improved, I went back to Nicaragua.

In November 2007, my mother was diagnosed with lung cancer and was no longer able to take care of my father, who had developed Parkinson’s disease and had a bad fall, breaking two cervical vertebrae.

I asked my Congregation to allow me to come to the United States to help the Sisters of the Teresian community of Miami and help my family in the care of my parents. The response was positive. I was granted an R1 visa and became a member of the Teresian Community of Miami, Florida.

In December 2006, my mother filed a petition for Residence on my behalf. This was approved in 2008 but was never made available during her life. She passed away on December 14, 2010.

In 2011, I came in contact with CLINIC when my R1 visa was about to expire. The CLINIC attorney was a big help and brought me peace of mind when my visa was renewed for two more years.

The Society of Saint Teresa of Jesus has been taking pastoral care of the former alumni of the schools of Cuba and Nicaragua that are located mainly in Miami. Many of my former students of Nicaragua migrated to the United States after the Sandinist revolution. So I was given the mission to help in the formation of the Nicaraguan group. The girls that came as adolescents are now adults raising Christian families and contributing to the American society. I am blessed to be given the opportunity to witness that the seed that was planted 20 to 30 years ago in Nicaragua is growing in new Nicaraguan-American families.

The support of the Teresian community and the help of CLINIC have been crucial. After 5 years, the Society of Saint Teresa of Jesus requested that I be granted a resident status to be able to continue my mission in Florida. Nicole Bonjean of CLINIC took my case and has been a great help. Right now we are in the final stage of the process. I have already received my Employment Authorization Card and will soon receive my Residence Card. I am thankful for the excellent work that CLINIC is developing to help religious Sisters like me to process all the documentation required by USCIS while we dedicate ourselves in full to the mission.

The ways of the Lord are mysterious. It took a violent revolution for my parents to leave their country and come to live in the country that they admired since they were a young couple starting their family in Nicaragua. After 35 years this family has also grown with 9 grandchildren and 6 great grandchildren born in this country. We have received from God the gift of life and faith that we are sharing in this, our new home. Once again, it has been in a mysterious way, through the painful situation of the diseases of my aging parents and the death of my mother, that the Lord has called me back to the United States. He has given me a new mission, a new family and a new country.


CIR Updates

Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) Update

With the Senate passing its immigration bill last June and the House currently working on its own legislation, comprehensive immigration reform is a likely reality.  Although legislation is far from final, the expected overhaul will certainly have a monumental impact on all facets of immigration law.


What Are You Doing to Prepare for CIR?

In the Religious Immigration Services section of CLINIC, we want you to start considering how CIR might affect your organization.  For example, who could you employ if immigration reform allows undocumented men and women to receive work authorization and legal status? Do you currently have unpaid volunteer religious workers who might be prospective employees?  Do you have men and women who would be ideal teachers but for their undocumented status, which prevents your Diocese from making offers of employment?  Does your religious order have undocumented adult men and women interested in pursuing a religious vocation?  Would these individuals be able to serve within the Church if they had work authorization? 

In the next month, RIS clients will be receiving an email regarding the role RIS will play when CIR is enacted.  Please begin thinking about how these changes will affect your religious immigration needs.


CLINIC Resources

CLINIC staff members are working tirelessly to keep our clients and affiliates aware of the important issues involved in this ongoing debate.  For more details, please visit the CIR page on CLINIC’s website.  





Resolving Inconsistencies Between Forms I-94 and I-797 For Religeous Workers


Immigration regulations governing religious workers have created a complex area of law that can be confusing in application. The reality that some parts of the regulations came into effect later than others has created certain inconsistencies.1 For example, the frequent inconsistency between the duration of the I-129 Approval Notice2 (which is normally granted for thirty months) and the duration of the Form I-943 (which may extend as long as three years) has created a conflict of documents and resulting confusion for religious workers and their organizational sponsors.

Under current immigration regulations, a sponsoring religious organization must file a Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker (Form I-129) with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) if it wishes to bring a religious worker to the United States. Once the petition is approved, USCIS issues an I-129 Approval Notice, and the religious worker may apply for an R-1 visa abroad. At the port of entry to the U.S., the religious worker is issued a Form I-94, a required document for all nonimmigrant visitors to the United States.4 The Form I-94 has long been the controlling document for determining the lawful status of nonimmigrants, yet it is now not always clear which is the controlling document in certain contexts. Although the USCIS addressed this issue in a question and answer session with religious stakeholders, questions remain.5 One approach is to follow the practice of honoring the I-94 as the latest-in-time controlling document, as long as it does not exceed the five years that the religious worker is allowed under current R-1 regulations6. In this article, we will examine and review this approach to the current conflict of documents in religious immigration practice, in the hope that it may be helpful to other practitioners struggling with this issue.


To download the full article, please Click Here

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Extension of Stay Denials - When to Leave the U.S.

Once an extension of stay is denied, a foreign national must make plans to immediately depart the United States.  The Customs and Border Protection website offers guidance regarding how long a person can remain in the U.S. following the denial of the extension

 “USCIS generally allows you 30 days to depart the U.S. starting from the date on the letter notifying you of their decision to deny an extension.  If you do not depart within 30 days, you will be considered deportable. USCIS cautions that if you are refused permission to extend your stay, you may encounter problems with Consulates overseas the next time you apply for a U.S. visa because their computer records will indicate that you did not leave the U.S. within the time frame of your initial period of entry.  Be sure to keep your rejection letter and proof of the date of your departure (a boarding pass is the best thing, but passport stamps showing entry into another country is also helpful) to give the consulate the next time you apply for a new visa.  Having those may mitigate your apparent overstay and could improve your chances of renewing your visa without the five year restriction usually applied to people that have overstayed their visit.”


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Tips and Tricks for Accessing an Electronic I-94

By Megan S. Turngren

RIS Staff Attorney 


Beginning in May 2013, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) stopped issuing paper I-94 cards and instead began requiring that the foreign national access the I-94 information on the CBP website.  For the past six months, both attorneys and foreign nationals have been working diligently to try to understand the new electronic I-94 system.



Under the new system, a foreign national will meet with an immigration officer upon entry.  As before, the officer will stamp the foreign national’s passport with the port of entry and date of arrival.  The CBP officer will also handwrite the admission symbol (i.e., “R-1”) and the date until which the foreign national is authorized to stay. However, the officer will not staple anything into the passport. Instead, the foreign national will be required (on their own) to print an electronic I-94 from the CBP website after arriving in the United States. 

As the process has evolved, foreign nationals have encountered numerous issues trying to access the electronic I-94 information online.  Finding the electronic I-94 information is often a game of trial and error.

As we have worked to understand the electronic I-94 program, we have found some ways to locate even the most hard-to-find electronic I-94s.


Verify that all information is entered accurately.

  • One simple data entry error will prevent the ability to access the electronic I-94.

Check that the correct passport information is entered.

  • Sometimes a foreign national will obtain a new passport while they are outside the U.S.  When they return, it is possible to erroneously enter the previous passport number.  Always ensure that the most up-to-date information is being used.  However, that being said, if the information cannot be accessed using the new (correct) passport data, enter the previous passport data.  The information could have been incorrectly entered by a CBP officer, especially if the foreign national had a visa in their previously-issued passport.

Consider multiple entry options for the passport number.

  • If the passport number includes the date the passport was issued, try removing these digits when you enter the information into the CBP data entry form. This issue has been very common when accessing I-94 information for individuals with a Mexican passport.  If the foreign national has a Mexican passport, try entering the passport number without the first two numbers listed in the passport number. 
  • Also, verify the passport number used when the foreign national submitted the DS-160 application online as part of the R-1 visa process.  If there was a typographical error in the DS-160, try accessing the electronic I-94 information using the exact same number that was listed in the DS-160 form.

Attempt to enter the name in a different format.

  • In some countries, the first name may be written as the last name on the passport.  Due to this issue, we often see issues relating to how the name is used when accessing the electronic I-94. 
  • The passport may list a first and middle name, but the electronic I-94 may be entered listing both names as the first name.  Alternatively, the middle name might not be included in the electronic I-94.  If you are having difficulty finding the I-94, it is important to try different formats of the name to try to access the information.
  • Also, if the name is hyphenated, try to access the information using the name with the hyphen.  However, if it cannot be accessed this way, remove the hyphen and try again.  Likewise, if the name has a space on the passport, try entering the name without a space on the electronic I-94 data form. 
  • The foreign national’s name may be spelled differently on the passport and visa.  While CBP officers typically use the information provided on the passport, they may also enter the information provided on the visa.


The CBP website also provides tips to access the electronic I-94 information online


If you cannot access the electronic I-94 information online, it is important to take the next step and visit the local CBP deferred inspection office.  The CBP website has information about local deferred inspection offices, including the address and hours of operation.   Be sure to contact the local deferred inspection site in advance of driving to the office to determine if they handle I-94 matters on a specific date or at a specific time. 

Although the process for accessing the electronic I-94 may be confusing at times, it is imperative that a foreign national attempt to access the information as soon as he or she enters the United States.  Please remember that the date stamped in the passport is NOT the I-94 expiration date.  In fact, the two dates are not always the same.  The electronic I-94 is the document that authorizes the foreign national’s legal stay inside the United States. 

Special Caution to Frequent Travelers: Please note that the electronic I-94 will not be available after a foreign national exits the United States on a subsequent trip abroad. This can potentially be very problematic for clients who frequently travel abroad for missionary purposes.  To avoid any hassles, it’s best to print out the I-94 as soon as possible once in the United States.

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The Year of DACA

By Minyoung Ohm

RIS Staff Attorney 


It has been more than one year since the Catholic Legal Immigration Network’s (CLINIC) Religious Immigration Services (RIS) Section began taking cases for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).  Back on June 15, 2012, the Department of Homeland Security announced a new process that allowed prosecutorial discretion to “dreamers,” or the young people who came into the United States as children and do not have proper immigration documents.  This new program allowed these young people to have work authorization and stay in the country without the threat of deportation. This announcement provided hope for the young people who lived in the shadows as “undocumented” immigrants.  These young adults were unable to obtain social security numbers or driver’s licenses because they did not have valid immigration status.  

Since June 2012, RIS has handled a number of DACA cases.  In the spring of 2013, our clients started receiving work authorization cards and approval notices for applications that were filed in late 2012.   It is exciting to see the approval notices, especially since just last year, attorneys were working hard to collect documents from these DACA applicants to show proof of their eligibility to the Department of Homeland Security.  Now these young people have DACA approvals, obtained work permits, social security numbers, and driver’s licenses, and are able to live out their lives for everyone to see.

The DACA applicants who came to RIS for assistance are young people aged between 20 and 30 who are discerning religious life in formation.   These applicants grew up in the United States, speak English, attended local middle and high schools, and somehow, in their life’s journey, encountered God’s calling to pursue a religious vocation.  For example, a young Religious Sister whose DACA application was approved in May 2013 came to the United States by crossing the Mexican border with her parents when she was 14 years old.  Her parents, who were struggling in Mexico, wanted to move the family into the United States so that their children could have better lives.  Growing up, she felt like she was living a segregated life because she was undocumented and had no identification.  Now, she is currently studying theology and philosophy at her religious community’s juniorite house and providing pastoral services to nearby parishes, such as teaching catechism to youths, caring for those dealing with depression and alcohol problems, and praying for spiritual refreshment with Catholics who gather at retreats. 

Another DACA applicant is a Religious Brother from Peru.  He originally came to the United States with his family on a tourist visa at the age of 13.  After arriving, his family decided to remain in the United States.  He discovered at a young age that he was not legally in the U.S. and has lived in fear of deportation for both himself and his family.  He joined a religious community following God’s calling to serve the disadvantaged youths.  Since his DACA was approved, he obtained a social security number and a driver’s permit.  He can now legally work.  In fact, he is currently assigned by his religious superiors to teach religion at a Catholic High School.   If he is approved for a travel document, he hopes to join missionary groups abroad and enrich his religious vocation by studying theology in Jerusalem.  

Despite the positive impact made on the lives of these religious men and women, DACA is not a permanent solution, as it does not grant any legal status.  We hope that Congress will pass Comprehensive Immigration Reform so these worthy religious men and women, along with other deserving immigrants who work hard and want to more fully contribute to the United States as productive members of society, are given a chance to live their lives out of the shadows and be on a pathway to permanent residence and eventual citizenship.  


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Religious Workers Regulations: Five Years Later

By Miguel A. Naranjo

Director, Religious Immigration Services


In 2008, the federal government made major changes to the Religious Worker Visa Program. Prior to the changes, the Religious Worker program was already facing increased scrutiny.  It became increasingly obvious that proposals to dramatically alter the regulations would just be a matter of time.  The main concern by the federal government was the issue of fraud in the category. The government was determined to make the immigration process more rigorous and burdensome for any religious organization seeking to bring foreign-born religious workers to the U.S.  In the Religious Immigration Services (RIS) section of CLINIC, we were acutely aware of the pending changes and, in the fall of 2008, the federal government announced the revised regulations. These laws are still the current process being followed by the federal government today. 


The startling effect of the regulation changes is readily apparent in a review of the Department of State (DOS) R-1 Visas records from 2008 to 2012.  In FY 2008, the DOS reported 17,078 R-1 visa applications received at U.S. embassies and consulates worldwide.  That same year it granted 10,061 R-1 visas; thus showing an approval rate of approximately 60 percent.  The following year in FY 2009, with the new regulations/changes to the R-1 Religious Worker Visa program, the number of R-1 visa applications filed dramatically fell to 6,208 worldwide (down 65 percent from the previous year) and only 2,771 R-1 visas were granted, an approval rate of approximately 45 percent.



Many dioceses and religious communities initially struggled in adjusting to the revised religious worker regulations.  Though the number of R-1 visa applications filed is still down from FY 2008, the approval rate of the R-1 visa has been steadily rising each year since the new regulations took effect.  Despite the fact that the overall process of sponsoring international religious worker remains difficult, we are finally seeing a positive trend in the figures reported by the Department of State.


Moving forward in 2014, dioceses, religious communities, and other religious organizations should consider developing or updating an immigration policy for its international religious workers.  The following should be considered:


  • Assigning trained support or experienced legal counsel to handle religious immigration matters minimizes issues/problems.  Immigration law requires careful planning and attention to detail.  We strongly encourage dioceses, religious communities, and other religious organizations to use in-house counsel, local immigration attorneys who are knowledgeable about religious immigration, or CLINIC.


  • In dealing with the federal government, always expect the unexpected.  Immigration cases can be erroneously denied or are delayed with no explanation.


  • Keep up-to-date personnel records of international clergy and other religious workers serving in the Diocese (where are they assigned, his/her immigration status, compensation/benefit records, etc).


  • The immigration service (USCIS) requires sponsors of R-1 religious workers to notify USCIS within 14 days of when the religious worker is terminated or leaves employment.  This is required by law.


Additionally, with the strict regulations in place, the religious immigration process requires careful consideration from the very start of the petition.  Some of the important questions to consider are:


  • Who should sponsor an R-1 religious worker? A parish, diocese, religious community, etc?


  • Should we sponsor a religious worker for permanent residence, and if so, when?


  • What is our policy on accepting international religious workers who transfer from one organization to our organization?


  • Who should sponsor religious vocations (religious brothers and sisters) serving our Diocese?


  • How are we prepared to handle immigration service "site visits?"


The most current immigration issues for religious organizations include immigration site visits and comprehensive immigration reform (CIR).   As part of the revised Religious Worker Visa Program in 2008, the federal government now conducts fraud investigation site visits of sponsors and beneficiaries of R-1 visas.  In addition, Congress may still enact CIR, so organizations should be discussing how to prepare for potential changes to immigration law.


While the Religious Worker Program changed dramatically and is now more challenging, the Religious Immigration Services section of CLINIC remains committed to helping religious organizations and religious workers navigate through the complicated immigration process of the R-1 category.  If you need help with religious worker immigration law, please contact us at 301-565-4832.

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