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EB-4 Religious Workers

To qualify for the employment-based fourth preference religious worker immigration visa category, you must be a minister or one working in the religious occupation or vocation. You must have been a member of the religious denomination, you must have been employed as a religious worker for two years after age 14 and before the petition was filed, and you must be intending to work only for an authentic nonprofit organization of your same religious denomination.

Background and unique problems

The EB4 religious worker category allows 5,000 visas annually. Although the category is employment-based, it treats religious workers differently resulting in this being a special area with distinctive difficulties. The USCIS believes this category is fraught with fraud. As a result, USCIS adjudicators look for certain special criteria. Therefore, it is especially valuable to retain experienced and professional legal counsel to advise you what problems to expect and what documents you should provide. In every case, the USCIS will conduct a mandatory investigation and an unannounced site inspection. Upon the arrival of the Fraud Detection and National Security (FDNS) officer, it is important to contact counsel and wait for legal representation to arrive before the FDNS interview starts.

Basic qualifications

Most EB4 petitions are filed by the religious organization, but if you are a special religious worker you may sponsor yourself. Your religious employer must establish that it is a bona fide nonprofit religious organization. You are considered a religious worker if you are working in a religious occupation or vocation, and you are qualified for the position under the denomination's standards. You cannot work in secular employment. The position must full-time of at least 35 hours a week on average.

What is a religious occupation?

A religious occupation is defined as a position relating to a traditional religious function and the denomination must recognize it as a religious occupation. Your job duties must clearly involve, and primarily relate to, implementing your religious beliefs. An administrative support position does not qualify, but it is permitted to conduct limited incidental administrative duties.

What is a religious vocation?

A religious vocation is defined as a formal lifelong commitment created through a vow or other such ceremony. For instance, this would include monks, nuns, and religious sisters and brothers.

Does the petition require compensation?

During the two years of your prior experience you must have compensation, and you must also receive compensation for your position with the petitioning employer. This can be by salary or non-salary pay. Your employer must attest that it has the intent and capability to pay you a wage high enough so that you will not become a public charge.

Can I take a hiatus from work?

Yes, regulations recognize that a religious worker has several job-related reasons to take a work hiatus. A break in the preceding two years of your work will not affect your eligibility if all of the following exist:

  1. You were still working as a religious worker;
  2. Your hiatus was not longer than two years; and
  3. Your hiatus was for religious training or for sabbatical and was not unauthorized employment in the US

If you have questions about the EB4 fourth preference employment-based immigration visa category, please contact our immigration attorneys or call The Law Firm of Shihab & Associates, Co., LPA at the nearest office close to you to consult with an attorney.

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