USCIS Revises Religious Worker Regulations
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that it has revised significantly the special immigrant and nonimmigrant (R-1) religious worker visa classification regulations. USCIS said the final rule “will ensure the integrity of the religious worker program by establishing a requirement that employers submit a formal petition for temporary religious workers, and by providing for increased inspections, evaluations, verifications, and compliance reviews of religious organizations.” The rule “also fulfills the recent Congressional mandate to issue final regulations to eliminate or reduce fraud in the religious worker program.”
Previously, foreign religious workers were able to request an R-1 religious worker visa at a consular post without any previous stateside review of the religious organization or job offer. The final rule will require individuals seeking to enter the U.S. through the nonimmigrant religious worker program to provide a consular officer an approved Form I-129, Petition for Alien Worker. Stateside review of the petition will allow USCIS to verify that the petitioner and the job offer are legitimate before the State Department issues a visa and admits the religious worker to the U.S.
Among other things, the rule also reduces the initial period of admission for a nonimmigrant from three years to a period of up to 30 months. USCIS said this will allow it an earlier opportunity to review whether the terms of the visa have been met before extending the nonimmigrant religious worker’s stay in the U.S. Religious workers will be allowed one extension of up to an additional 30 months.
A questions-and-answers sheet is available as a PDF. A related fact sheet is available also as a PDF. A policy memorandum on handling non-minister special immigrant religious worker petitions affected by the October 1, 2008, sunset date is available here.