By Minyoung Ohm
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.