USCIS Finalizes Regulations for Religious Workers

Recently, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) made significant changes to the visa procedures available for religious workers.  This Final Rule embodies a complete overhaul of the
religious worker classification designed to prevent fraud.  With revisions in the definition of core terms, evidentiary requirements, and application procedures, it is important that religious organizations and religious workers become familiar with these developments.

One major change is in the nonimmigrant visa processing arena, as R-1 applicants will no longer be able to apply directly to a consular post abroad or port of entry.  R-1 visa applicants are now required to obtain an approved I-129 petition from the USCIS before applying for a visa abroad.  Moreover, the initial validity period for an R-1 religious worker will be up to 30 months (rather than a full 3 years).

The USCIS has also revised key definitions.  For example, Religious Occupation is defined as an occupation that relates primarily to the traditional religious function that is recognized as a religious occupation within a denomination.  Moreover, “Religious Denomination” is defined to include religious group or community of believers governed or administered under a form of “ecclesiastical government.”

Religious organization will also be subject to onsite inspection to verify its legitimacy and job offer.  Aware that such inspections may cause substantial delays in the adjudication process, the USCIS has stated that it will take corrective measures should unreasonable delays be detected.
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