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Religious Immigration

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On Sept. 8, Congress passed a continuing resolution for the non-minister special immigrant religious worker program. Read more to see how this will affect religious workers in your organization.

 
 
 

The non-minister special immigrant religious worker program currently has legislative authority through April 28, 2017, under a bill signed by President Obama in December 2016. The law allows 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.

 
 
 

Religious workers from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico are unable to submit an adjustment of status or immigrant visa application at this time.

 
 
 

Filing a change of address with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services is a simple but important task for foreign nationals who are in the United States. According to the Immigration and Nationality Act, Section 265(a), "each alien required to be registered under this title who is within the United States shall notify the attorney general in writing of each change of address and new address within ten days from the date of such change and furnish with such notice such additional information as the attorney general may require by regulation." Any non-citizens, including permanent residents, who reside in the U.S. should use Form AR-11, the Alien’s Change of Address Card, to report their change of address within 10 days of moving to the new address.

 
 
 

An important part of the immigration process of sponsoring international religious workers to the United States involves a site visit from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. This required visit is used to verify elements of the petition filed by the sponsor, including sponsor and beneficiary information, and work location. Site visits may occur with advance notice or without any notice. A successful site visit allows the sponsor to qualify for expedited processing when filing I-129 petitions for a nonimmigrant religious worker, also known as premium processing.

 
 

Each year, the RIS staff spends time together to plan ahead for the next year. Through this two-day brainstorming session in November, team members discussed ways to improve RIS, in part by working more closely with other sections within CLINIC, as well as ways to increase our social media presence.

 
 

More than two dozen participants from as far away as Missouri, Texas and Nebraska met the staff of Religious Immigration Services in Garden Grove, California, in October for a day-long training in religious immigration.

The group included practitioners from Catholic Charities agencies and private firms as well as priests and religious, representing dioceses or religious communities.

 
 

Chris Ross joined CLINIC in January 2015. Prior to joining RIS, he worked on immigration policy. He graduated from the University of Maryland School of Law and is a member of the Maryland State Bar.

 
 

There are many concerns about how immigration policy will change and evolve in the U.S. in 2017. There will be a new administration and new staff responsible for managing the laws, regulations and policies of our country. International religious workers serving the church in the U.S. will not be immune from changes that may occur.

 
 
 

A new schedule of filing fees from USCIS takes effect Dec. 23, 2016. Applications or petitions mailed, postmarked, or otherwise filed on or after Dec. 23, 2016 must include the new fee. Below is a list of the most common petitions and applications used by religious workers and the current and new fee schedule:

Form Current Fee New Fee – 12/23/2016

I-129 Petition

 
 
 

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.

 
 
 

On September 30th, 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 CR 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 until December 11, 2015. Finding a more permanent extension for the Special Immigrant Non-Minister Religious Worker Program remains an ongoing issue for CLINIC Advocacy.

 
 
 

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.

 
 
 

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.

 
 
 
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.
 
 
 

 

 

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:

 

 
 
 

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.

 
 
 

 

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. 

 
 
 

By Minyoung Ohm

RIS Attorney

 

 
 
 

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. 

 
 
 

By Minyoung Ohm

RIS Attorney

 

 
 
 

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

 
 
 

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:

 

 
 
 

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.

 
 
 

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. 

 
 
 

By Angelia Amaya

RIS Legal Assistant

 

 
 

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.

 
 
 

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

 
 
 

By Minyoung Ohm

RIS Staff Attorney

 

 
 
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.

 
 
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. 

 
 
 
 
 
 

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. 

 
 
 

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.

 
 
 

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?

 
 
 

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

 
 
 

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.

 

 
 
 

By Minyoung Ohm

RIS Staff Attorney 

 

 
 
 

By Miguel A. Naranjo

Director, Religious Immigration Services

 

 
 
 

CLINIC and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops joined other faith-based organizations in asking Congress to permanently extend the Religious Worker Visa Program.  See the letter here.