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.
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