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The process of bringing foreign-born religious workers, including priests, brothers and sisters, and lay workers to the U.S. is a complicated one.  A religious worker must be the beneficiary of an approved I-129 petition filed inside the U.S. before he or she can apply for the R-1 Religious Worker visa abroad.  By requiring a religious organization and the foreign national to go through two steps in order to obtain an R-1 visa, the nonimmigrant visa process now takes much longer than it did prior to 2008.  However, this process also allows USCIS the opportunity to verify the information submitted for the application, including information regarding the validity of the employer and the proposed employment. 

To bring in a new religious worker, a sponsor will undergo a thorough review by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service.  One of the several requirements a sponsor must prove is that the worker qualifies as a religious worker and that the foreign worker meets at least one of three legal definitions of a religious worker–a minister, a person in a religious vocation, or a person in a religious occupation.  Only after USCIS approves a request from a sponsor can the foreign worker then apply for an R-1 Religious Worker visa to enter the U.S. at an U.S. Embassy or Consulate abroad.  Once satisfied, the U.S. Embassy or Consulate will issue an R-1 visa in the worker’s passport.

The religious worker will now use his or her R-1 visa to apply for admission (entry) into the U.S. The foreign-born religious worker must again satisfy the legal requirements for a temporary visiting worker to the satisfaction of a Customs and Border Protection officer.  Though this review is often conducted quickly, the intricacies of immigration law can make the process of admission confusing and complicated. 

The process for sponsoring a foreign-born religious worker for permanent residence is also a two-step process.  Once the initial request from the sponsor has been approved by USCIS, the religious worker must then submit additional information to USCIS to apply for permanent residence.  Each case is different, making it difficult to predict how long the overall process for permanent residence may take.  On average, this process may take from 6 to 18 months to complete.  Delays in processing by USCIS are common, and there are always other factors−travel, past immigration violations, etc.−which may further delay a case and affect its outcome.

As is evident, there are many government agencies that a Diocese or Religious Community must navigate and many potential issues that it must handle in order to successfully sponsor foreign-born religious workers.  In addition, because immigration law is already a complicated area of law to begin with, any seemingly minor legal violations by a sponsor or worker could have a significant consequence.  The religious worker could jeopardize future immigration benefits (such as permanent residence or U.S. citizenship) and an organization could jeopardize its ability to sponsor future foreign-born religious workers.

Nonimmigrant Applications

  • I-129 Petition for a Nonimmigrant Religious Worker (R-1)
  • R-1 Visa Application
  • R-2 Visa Applications for Spouse and Dependents
  • Change of Status (from one nonimmigrant category to another nonimmigrant category while in the U.S.)
  • R-1 Extension of Status (from inside the U.S.)
  • F-1 Visa Applications (Student)
  •  Change of Status to F-1 (Student)
  • H-1B Petition and Visa Application
  • H-1B Visa Application

Permanent Residence

  • I-360 Petition Special Immigrant Classification
  • I-485 Adjustment of Status to Lawful Permanent Resident Application (from nonimmigrant category to immigrant status). Includes first-time applications for Employment Authorization and Travel Document, if eligible.
  • Employment Authorization or Travel Document Renewal
  • Reentry Permit
  • Returning Resident Visa
  • Immigrant Visa Consular Processing (includes I-360 Special Immigrant Classification and I-824, if necessary)
  • Permanent Resident Card Renewal

Additional Services

  • Naturalization Application (N-400, N-470, U.S. Citizenship)
  • DACA (Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals)

Our goal is to provide our clients with expert advice and guidance regarding the immigration processes for foreign-born religious workers.  We will work with both the religious organization and the foreign national to provide a thorough evaluation of the options available based upon the specific circumstances of the case.  We will then prepare the necessary paperwork to submit to the various government agencies that are involved with the immigration process. 

We will be happy to provide you with additional information and answer any questions that you may have concerning immigration options for foreign-born religious workers.  If you would like to discuss your options with one of our attorneys, please contact us at (202) 635-5549 or via email at

(Please note: As we contract primarily with religious organizations instead of individual foreign nationals, we request that the religious organization contact us initially on behalf of both the organization and the foreign national.)