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.