Resources on Religious Immigration Law

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In recent months, Religious Immigration Services staff have seen an increase in the number of nonimmigrant visas denied to applicants. Nonimmigrant visas are issued to people who have the intent to come to the United States in categories classified for temporary purposes, including visitors, students and religious workers. It is recommended that clients prepare and carefully review all information throughout the visa application process.

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  • Social Media: The Department of State has added social media questions to Form DS-160 and Form DS-260. The form now asks for additional phone numbers and email addresses, along with the applicant’s social media history for the past five years. If applicants have accounts on the following social media sites — Douban, Facebook, Flicker, Google, Instagram, LinkedIn, My space, Pinterest, Qzone (QQ), Reddit, Sina Weibo, Tencent Weibo, Tumbler, Twitter, Twoo, Vine, Vkontakte, Youku and/or YouTube — they are to select the social media site and include their account ID/Username.

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The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, or USCIS, issued new criteria on May 10 for when a case filed with USCIS may be expedited, narrowing the situations in which this discretionary benefit can be used. Please see the changes to the expedite criteria below.

USCIS may expedite a​ petition or application if it meets one or more of the following criteria (the criteria was recently revised in the USCIS policy manual):

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Last year, USCIS issued a memo changing the situations in which F, J and M Nonimmigrants began to accrue unlawful presence. This new policy took effect Aug. 9, 2018. The policy was then taken to court. A U.S. federal judge issued a nationwide preliminary injunction on May 3 to temporarily block the implementation of the Aug. 9, 2018 USCIS policy memo “Accrual of Unlawful Presence and F, J, and M Nonimmigrants.” This article will provide an update on where the case stands, along with additional updates to fee increases for students and prospective changes to the student category.

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Immigration laws limit the number of immigrant (permanent residence) visas issued during the government’s fiscal year, i.e., Oct. 1, 2018 to Sept. 30, 2019. The number of immigrant visas for employment-based, or EB, cases begins at 140,000 per year. The religious worker permanent residence program falls under the EB 4th preference category, which includes ministers (EB 4th) and non-ministers (EB 4th – Certain Religious Workers).

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Under the Trump administration, immigration law and policy transformed. Next year, we expect the same level of changes, and possibly more, that could affect the R-1 Religious Worker Visa Program and permanent residence for religious workers. The following is a list of potential issues that international religious workers should be aware of next year.


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U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, or USCIS, published a new policy guidance on June 28, 2018, regarding the issuance of Form I-862, Notice to Appear. A Notice to Appear, or NTA, is a document issued to a foreign national by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, when the agency has determined that the individual is removable. NTA orders the person to appear before an immigration judge on a given date and to undergo the removal proceedings in court. Until now, USCIS rarely issued NTAs, even after denying immigration benefits.

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Earlier this spring, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced a significant policy change that will impact foreign nationals studying in the United States in F status (student), J status (exchange visitor), and M status(vocational student). Effective Aug. 9, 2018an individual with this status, and his/her dependents, will immediately begin to accrue unlawful presence in the following situations:

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Effective Oct. 18, 2017, the Trump administration will impose new travel restrictions for nationals from the following eight countries:

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Effective Oct. 1, 2017, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, or USCIS, will begin implementing "in-person" interviews of I-485 Adjustment of Status (AOS) applicants from employment-based immigration cases. While religious worker AOS cases are employment-based, this new policy will not apply.

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What is Form AR-11?

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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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An important part of the immigration process of sponsoring international religious workers to the U.S. involves a site visit from USCIS (U.S.

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During the summer, I had the privilege of visiting one of CLINIC’s long-time clients, the Congregation of Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word, Houston, Texas.  The Congregation provides ministries to people with AIDS, the elderly, orphans and others through education, health care, social justice and literacy work within the United States, as well as Guatemala, El Salvador, Ireland, and Kenya.   I have prepared a number of R-1 petitions and visa applications for the Congregation’s foreign-born Religious Sisters so that they can enter the U.S.

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I was recently afforded the opportunity to go out to Artesia, New Mexico to assist the team of immigration attorneys that are providing free legal services to the over 500 detained women and children from Central America.  I would be remiss if I were to say that I was not profoundly affected by my experience at the Artesia, New Mexico detention center.  Artesia is a small, oil town with about 12,000 residents and is about 8 square miles in the northwestern part of the state, pretty much in the middle of nowhere.  Interestingly, Artesia is home to the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center

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Promoting the Dignity of Immigrants with Affordable Legal Expertise

As it has for more than 30 years, CLINIC will fight for the rights of immigrants. CLINIC trains legal representatives who provide high-quality and affordable immigration legal services. We develop and sustain a network of nonprofit programs that serve close to 500,000 immigrants every year. We cultivate projects that support and defend vulnerable immigrant populations by:

  • providing direct representation for asylum seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border and educating them about their rights; 
  • reuniting formerly separated families;
  • increasing legal representation for those in removal proceedings and in detention;
  • providing public education on immigration law and policies; and
  • advocating for fair and just immigration policies that acknowledge the inherent dignity and value of all people.  

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About the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc.

Embracing the Gospel value of welcoming the stranger, CLINIC promotes the dignity and protects the rights of immigrants in partnership with a dedicated network of Catholic and community legal immigration programs. We are based out of Silver Spring, Maryland (Washington, D.C. metropolitan area), with an office in Oakland, California, and additional staff working from locations throughout the country. Questions and inquiries can be sent to

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