Applying for a visa as a religious worker

Living a life of faith is admirable. If you have felt drawn to devote your life to your religion, you may be fortunate to have found work within the denomination with which you identify, perhaps as a minister or lay worker. This type of work can be demanding but satisfying. While you may not earn much money, you may find your rewards in other ways.

Working fulltime in a religious organization may also present new opportunities, such as traveling to different countries. If you are planning to come to the U.S., perhaps to work in one of the several religious institutions in Kentucky, you must first navigate the country’s complex immigration system.

Are you eligible?

Immigrating to the U.S. as a religious worker requires you to apply for an employment-based visa, specifically an EB-4. You will likely be competing with others for the limited 5,000 religious worker visas. If you are coming to the U.S. to work exclusively as a minister, you will not have to worry about a cap on available visas.

Additionally, in the latter part of this year, the non-minister special immigrant religious worker program, which includes such groups as nuns and monks, is scheduled to end. Since the immigration process is notoriously slow, you would do well to begin as quickly as possible, starting with confirming your eligibility for this particular EB-4 classification. For example, you must meet these and other requirements:

  • Belonging for at least two years to a non-profit religious organization that has a bona fide presence in the United States
  • Planning to work full time in a paying position as a minister, in a religious occupation or within a religious vocation, such as a nun
  • Having experience for roughly the last two years working in a similar religious occupation, ministry or vocation in another country or in the U.S.
  • Providing the relevant documentation to prove your qualifications and credentials as a minister, or to demonstrate your employment by the religious organization
  • Providing proof that you will receive compensation for your work or that you will be supporting yourself financially while in the country

In addition to requesting a visa for yourself, you may wish to bring your spouse and children along, if the situation applies to you. Seeking legal assistance with these steps or any other immigration issue is always a wise move. Avoiding mistakes is the best way to reduce the chances for setbacks that can delay your progress toward meeting your goals.