Nashville has the most churches per capita in the United States, with more than 700 congregations in Davidson County alone. Home to numerous seminaries, colleges, and schools with religious affiliations, Nashville is also the largest center of religious publishing in the nation. We represent numerous religious organizations, not only in Nashville, but across the Southeast United States.
The immigration laws provide visa classifications for religious ministers and workers on both a temporary and permanent basis. Temporary religious workers are covered by the “R” nonimmigrant category, while permanent religious workers are afforded “special immigrant” status.” These temporary and permanent categories allow individuals engaged in a broad range of religious occupations to enter the U.S. to perform services related to their religious calling or vocation. Only tax-exempt religious organizations qualify to sponsor visas for religious ministers and other religious workers.
R-1 Religious Ministers and Workers: To sponsor a religious minister or worker under the temporary category known as R-1, the religious organization begins by filing an employer petition with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS). USCIS will first conduct a site investigation of the religious organization. Once that is complete, USCIS will adjudicate the petition.
To be eligible for this classification, the foreign national must have been a member of the sponsoring religious denomination or organization for the two years immediately preceding the time of application for admission, and intend to come to the U.S. solely for the purpose of carrying on the religious work.
Permanent Religious Ministers and Workers: Permanent residence for religious ministers and workers (also known as “special immigrant status”) follows a similar procedure. The religious organization files a petition and USCIS conducts a site investigation. Eligibility for special immigrant status requires the religious minister and worker to meet the same requirements for temporary status, as well as fulfill an additional requirement, namely, that he or she has been working in the religious occupation for at least two years prior to the filing of the petition.
Once the petition is approved, the worker then applies for issuance of the immigrant visa. If the worker is in the U.S., he/she typically will apply for “adjustment of status.” This process takes about one to two years before her permanent residence is approved. But the religious worker will be granted work and travel authorization, which takes approximately three months to receive. If the religious worker is abroad, he/she typically files an application at the U.S. consulate in his/her home country. It usually takes the U.S. consulate about six months to review the paper work, interview the worker, and issue the visa.