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Religious workers and special immigrant visas

Some foreign religious workers intending on accepting jobs in Florida churches and associated charitable organizations have a special immigration visa available to them. In order to qualify, the religious worker as well as the religious organization must meet certain criteria established under the law.

Non-minister religious worker visas are capped at 5,000 per year nationwide. Those entering the U.S. for purposes of acting as a minister are not subject to a cap, however. In order to qualify, the foreign religious worker must have been a member of the U.S. religious organization for a minimum of two years prior to filing the petition. He or she must be planning to work on a full time, compensated basis as a minister, in a religious vocation or occupation either in a professional or nonprofessional position or be entering to work for a bona fide religious organization operating in the country.

Workers must also have worked in one of the described capacities for at least two years. Breaks in work are allowed if the breaks were for purposes of furthering religious education and studies. Both the religious organization as well as the worker will be required to submit a number of documents, including proof of the organization's tax-exempt status and of the worker's membership in the religion among other items.

People who want to enter the United States for purposes of working as a minister or other religious worker may want to seek the help of an immigration and naturalization attorney who can assist clients in gathering all of the documents they will need to support their immigrant visa requests. The documentary requirements for both the worker and the organization are fairly substantial. It is best to ensure that everything is submitted completely in order to obtain a favorable decision.

Source: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, "Special Immigrant Religious Workers", accessed on Jan. 21, 2015

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