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U.S. Department of State 
95/08/01 Visas: Immigrant Religious Workers 
Bureau of Consular Affairs 
 
 
 
                        IMMIGRANT RELIGIOUS WORKERS

 
The Immigration and Nationality Act provides two categories of visas for 
religious workers, one for temporary or nonimmigrant "R" status and one 
for legal permanent resident or immigrant "SD" status in the United 
States.  This brochure covers requirements and application procedures 
for the immigrant "SD" visa.  This status is under the fourth preference 
special immigrant category. 
 
DEFINITIONS OF RELIGIOUS WORKERS 
 
Religious workers include ministers of religion who are authorized by a 
recognized denomination to conduct religious worship and perform other 
duties usually performed by members of the clergy such as administering 
the sacraments, or their equivalent.  The term does not apply to lay 
preachers.  Religious vocation means a calling to religious life, 
evidenced by the demonstration of a lifelong commitment, such as taking 
of vows.  Examples include nuns, monks, and religious brothers and 
sisters.  Religious occupation means a habitual engagement in an 
activity which relates to a traditional religious function.  Examples 
include liturgical workers, religious instructors or cantors, 
catechists, workers in religious hospitals, missionaries, religious 
translators, or religious broadcasters.  It does not include janitors, 
maintenance workers, clerks, fund raisers, solicitors of donations, or 
similar occupations.  The activity of a lay-person who will be engaged 
in a religious occupation must relate to a traditional religious 
function.  The activity must embody the tenets of the religion and have 
religious significance, relating primarily, if not exclusively, to 
matters of the spirit as they apply to the religion. 
 
BACKGROUND REQUIREMENTS 
 
Criteria 
 
A religious worker is a person who for the past two years has been a 
member of a religious denomination which has a bona fide nonprofit, 
religious organization in the United States;  and who has been carrying 
on the vocation, professional work, or other work described below, 
continuously for the past two years;  and seeks to enter the U.S. to 
work solely: 
 As a minister of that denomination;  or 
  In a professional capacity in a religious vocation or occupation for 
that organization;  or  
  In a religious vocation or occupation for the organization or its 
nonprofit affiliate. 
 
Petition 
 
Any person, including the applicant, can file a Form I-360 petition with 
the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) for a person who 
meets the religious worker criteria.  A petition for a person who is not 
a minister may only be filed until October 1, 1997, and any immigrant 
visa issued to such person shall not be valid beyond October 1, 1997.  
After the petition is approved by the INS, the applicant will be sent 
instructions on how to apply for a fourth preference special immigrant 
visa for religious workers. 
 
Additional Documentation 
 
The I-360 petition must be accompanied by: 
 
--  A letter from the authorized official of the religious organization 
establishing that the proposed services and applicant qualify as listed 
above; 
 
--  A letter from the authorized official of the religious organization 
attesting to the applicant's membership in the religious denomination 
and explaining, in detail, the person's religious work and all 
employment during the past two years, and for the proposed employment;  
and 
 
--  Evidence establishing that the religious organization, and any 
affiliate which will employ the person, is a bona fide nonprofit 
religious organization in the U.S. and is exempt from taxation under 
Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986. 
 
VISA INELIGIBILITY/WAIVER 
 
The immigration laws of the United States, in order to protect the 
health, welfare, and security of the United States, prohibit the 
issuance of a visa to certain applicants.  Examples of applicants who 
must be refused visas are those who:  have a communicable disease such 
as tuberculosis, or have a dangerous physical and mental disorder, or 
are drug addicts;  have committed serious criminal acts;  are 
terrorists, subversives, members of a totalitarian party, or former Nazi 
war criminals;  have used illegal means to enter the United States;  or 
are ineligible for citizenship.  Some former exchange visitors must live 
abroad for 2 years.  If found to be ineligible, the consular officer 
will then advise the applicant if the law provides for some form of 
waiver. 
 
OTHER IMPORTANT DOCUMENTATION 
 
Documents for Visa Application 
 
All applicants must submit certain personal documents such as passports, 
birth certificates, police certificates, and other civil documents, as 
well as evidence that they will not become public charges in the United 
States.  The U.S. consular office will inform visa applicants of the 
documents needed as their applications are processed. 
 
Medical Examinations 
 
Before the issuance of an immigrant visa, every applicant, regardless of 
age, must undergo a medical examination.  The examination will be 
conducted by a doctor designated by the consular officer.  The applicant 
must pay for the examination. 
 
Visa Fees 
 
The cost of each formal immigrant visa application is U.S. $170 for 
application and $30 for issuance.  Fees must be paid for each intending 
immigrant regardless of age, and are not refundable.  Local currency 
equivalents are acceptable.  Fees should not be sent to the consular 
office unless requested specifically.  The INS charges additional fees 
for filing petitions. 
 
Numerical Limitations 
 
Whenever there are more qualified applicants for a category than there 
are available numbers, the category will be considered oversubscribed, 
and immigrant visas will be issued in the chronological order in which 
the petitions were filed until the numerical limit for the category is 
reached.  The filing date of a petition becomes the applicant's priority 
date.  Immigrant visas cannot be issued until an applicant's priority 
date is reached.  In certain heavily oversubscribed categories, there 
may be a waiting period of several years before a priority date is 
reached.  For the latest priority dates, call (202) 663-1541. 
 
Family Members 
 
An immigrant religious worker's spouse and unmarried children under 21 
years of age may be granted derivative immigration status. 
 
Miscellaneous 
 
Since no advance assurances can be given that a visa will be issued, 
applicants are advised not to make final travel arrangements, not to 
dispose of their property, and not to give up their jobs until visas 
have been issued to them.  An immigrant visa can be valid for four 
months from date of issuance. 
 
With few exceptions, a person born in the United States has a claim to 
U.S. citizenship.  Persons born in countries other than the U.S. may 
have a claim, under United States law, to U.S. nationality if: 
 
--  Either parent was born or naturalized in the United States, or 
--  Either parent was a United States citizen at the time of applicant's 
birth. 
 
Any applicant believing that he or she may have a claim to U.S. 
citizenship should not apply for a visa until his or her citizenship has 
been determined by the consular office. 
 
FURTHER INQUIRIES 
 
Further information about the special religious worker category can be 
obtained from your local INS office.  Questions on the visa application 
procedures at the American consular office overseas should be addressed 
to that consular office. 
 
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF STATE 
PUBLICATION 10070 
Bureau of Consular Affairs 
Visa Services Directorate 
August 1995 
 
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