Immigrant Religious Workers

“I am a minister or other religious worker who would like to immigrate to the United States.”

United States immigration law provides two categories of visas for religious workers: one for immigrant religious workers, and one for temporary or nonimmigrant religious workers. This article covers requirements and application procedures for the immigrant visa.

What Constitutes A Religious Worker?

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.

Requirements for the Immigrant Visa


An eligible 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;
  • 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.


Any person, including the applicant, can file the appropriate petition with the CIS for a person who meets the religious worker criteria. A petition for a person who is not a minister may only be filed until September 30, 2008. After the petition is approved, the applicant or his representative (attorney) is sent instructions on how to apply for a fourth preference special immigrant visa for religious workers.

In addition to the petition, additional documentation must be submitted proving the applicant’s membership in the religious denomination, demonstrating how both the proposed services and applicant qualify under the law, detailing the applicant’s religious work and all employment during the past two years, and showing how the religious organization, and any affiliate which will employ the person, is a bona fide, tax-exempt nonprofit religious organization in the United States.

Ortega-Medina & Associates

can help you determine whether you are an appropriate candidate for the religious worker immigrant visa, or whether you should apply for the nonimmigrant visa. Regardless of which visa is the more appropriate one for you, our firm is able to help you present the strongest case possible to substantially increase your success in obtaining your visa.