Immigration Resource: Religious Worker Immigration to the U.S.
September 25, 2019
Updated September 26, 2019
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Synod 2019 instructed the executive director, in consultation with the appropriate CRC agencies, to identify and communicate appropriate legal and financial resources to assist churches and classes with immigration of pastors and their families.
This document provides basic information that the CRCNA’s Human Resources office relies on when it assists U.S. congregations in calling a pastor from Canada. Congregations are encouraged to contact the HR office for additional questions.
The Religious Worker (R) visa is for persons seeking to enter the United States (U.S.) to work in a religious capacity on a temporary basis, under provisions of U.S. law, specifically the Immigration and Nationality Act.
Qualifying as a Religious Worker
Religious workers include persons authorized, by a recognized employing entity, to conduct religious worship and perform other duties usually performed by authorized members of the clergy of that religion, and workers engaging in a religious vocation or occupation.
The applicant's prospective employer must file Form I-129, Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker, with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). For more detailed information regarding the filing of Form I-129, as well as requirements, please refer to the USCIS R-1 Temporary Nonimmigrant Religious Worker webpage.
Important Note: It is very important for prospective employers to file the petition as soon as possible (but not more than 6 months before the proposed employment will begin) to provide adequate time for petition and subsequent visa processing.
The petition, Form I-129, must be approved by DHS/USCIS before the prospective religious worker can apply for a visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate abroad. When the petition is approved, the employer or agent is sent a Notice of Action, Form I-797, which serves as the petition approval notification. Petition approval is verified through the Department of State's Petition Information Management Service (PIMS) at the visa applicant’s interview. Visa applicants must bring the approved I-129 petition receipt number to the interview, so that petition approval can be verified. It should be noted that the approval of a petition shall not guarantee visa issuance to an applicant found to be ineligible under U.S. immigration law.
Applying for a Religious Worker Visa
Religious Worker applicants must meet specific requirements to qualify for a Religious Worker (R) visa under immigration law. The consular officer will determine whether you qualify for the visa. Although religious workers may apply at any U.S. Embassy or Consulate abroad, applicants should generally apply at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate with jurisdiction over their place of permanent residence, as it may be more difficult to qualify for the visa outside the country of permanent residence. As part of the visa application process, an interview at the embassy consular section is required for visa applicants between the ages of 14 through 79, with few exceptions. Persons age 13 and younger, and age 80 and older, generally do not require an interview, unless requested by the embassy or consulate. The waiting time for an interview appointment for applicants can vary, so early visa application is strongly encouraged. Visa wait times for interview appointments and visa processing time information for each U.S. Embassy or Consulate worldwide is available on our website at Visa Wait Times, and on most embassy websites. Learn how to schedule an appointment for an interview, pay the application processing fee, review embassy specific instructions, and much more by visiting the Embassy or Consulate website where you will apply.
During the visa application process, usually at the interview, an ink-free, digital fingerprint scan will be quickly taken. Some visa applications require further administrative processing, which takes additional time after the visa applicant's interview by a Consular Officer.
To schedule the interview appointment, you will need the receipt number that is printed on the approved Form I-129 petition. NOTE: During your interview, the consular officer will use the receipt number to verify the Form I-129 petition approval. Therefore, Form I-797 is not used to verify petition approval for your visa interview.
Each applicant for a religious worker visa must submit these forms and documentation as explained below.
What are the Required Visa Fees?
Consular officers may request whatever documentation is required and the applicant must be prepared to present any or all of the following documentation to verify that the applicant and the religious organization qualify for the R status, including:
A nonimmigrant religious worker's spouse and unmarried children under 21 years of age may be issued a religious worker visa. They may study, but may not accept employment in the U.S. Therefore, evidence of their financial support while in the U.S. will be necessary at the visa interview.
Entering the U.S. - Port of Entry
A visa allows a foreign citizen coming from abroad, to travel to the U.S. port-of entry and request permission to enter the U.S. Applicants should be aware that a visa does not guarantee entry into the U.S. The DHS, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials have authority to grant or deny admission to the U.S. If you are allowed to enter the U.S., the CBP official will determine the length of your visit on the Arrival-Departure Record, Form I-94. Since the Form I-94 documents your authorized stay in the U.S., it is important to keep it inside your passport. Upon arrival (at an international airport, seaport, or land border crossing), you will be enrolled in the US-VISIT entry-exit program. The CBP web site offers additional information on Admissions/Entry requirements.
Staying Beyond Your Authorized Stay in the U.S. and Being Out of Status
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