The United States recognizes the right of asylum of individuals as specified by international and federal law. A specified number of legally defined refugees who apply for refugee status overseas, as well as those applying for asylum after arriving in the U.S., are admitted annually.
Since World War II, more refugees have found homes in the U.S. than any other nation and more than two million refugees have arrived in the U.S. since 1980. During much of the 1990s, the United States accepted over 100,000 refugees per year, though this figure has recently decreased to around 50,000 per year in the first decade of the 21st century, due to greater security concerns. As for asylum seekers, the latest statistics show that 86,400 persons sought sanctuary in the United States in 2001. Before the September 11 attacksindividual asylum applicants were evaluated in private proceedings at the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS).
Despite this, concerns have been raised with the U.S. asylum and refugee determination processes. A recent empirical analysis by three legal scholars described the U.S. asylum process as a game of refugee roulette; that is to say that the outcome of asylum determinations depends in large part on the personality of the particular adjudicator to whom an application is randomly assigned, rather than on the merits of the case. The very low numbers of Iraqi refugees accepted between 2003 and 2007 exemplifies concerns about the United States’ refugee processes. The Foreign Policy Association reported that:
Religious Workers: Going From an R-1 Visa to a Green Card
Learn how churches and religious organizations can initially employ workers on a temporary visa and then move forward with green card sponsorship.
By Kyle Knapp
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R-1 visa holders who are currently working in the U.S. as ministers or in a religious vocation or occupation have a fairly simple route to obtaining a green card to become U.S. lawful permanent residents. The requirements to qualify for an R-1 visa and a green card are very similar. One key distinction is that the person applying for a green card as a religious worker must, as a prerequisite, have two years of qualifying employment as a religious worker.
The R-1 visa provides a convenient way for people to gain that two years of experience in the United States. A simple route to the green card for a religious worker, therefore, is to obtain the R-1 visa, work for two years, and then have the same or another employer start the green card process.
For more information on the R-1 visa and the employment-based religious worker green card category, see R Visa to the U.S. as a Religious Worker: Who Qualifies? and EB-4 Visa for Religious Workers: Who Qualifies?.
Keep in mind that it is not necessary to have an R-1 visa first in order to apply for a green card. If the religious worker has already gained two years of qualifying employment experience abroad, it’s possible to apply directly for the green card following the processing described below. The only benefit of first getting the R-1 visa is that in some cases, it may be faster, by several months, to get the person here initially and then pursue the green card.
How to Proceed
Here’s an overview of the steps by which an R-1 visa holder would move forward to obtaining a U.S. green card.
Step 1: Employer Files I-360 Visa Petition
Once a person has the required two years of experience as a religious worker, the first step is for the U.S. employer to file Form I-360 with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The key information and materials include the following:
I-360 petition form. It’s available as a free download on the USCIS website. The form can be a bit confusing, because it is used for various types of immigration cases. The employer should just complete the employer and employee sections and the sections that are specific to religious workers.
Employer attestation. The employer must attest to specific and detailed information on the I-360 petition concerning the religious organization, its membership and affiliations, any prior religious worker or R visa petition filings, and its ability to pay the offered wages. The employer must also attest to details concerning the proposed employment and the employee’s qualifications.
Proof of nonprofit status. The employer will need documentation from the Internal Revenue Service confirming the nonprofit status of the employer, such as a determination letter indicating that the organization is tax-exempt.
Proof of ability to pay. The employer will also need to include evidence of the its ability to pay the offered wages, such as W-2 forms showing wages paid to the employee or other employees, annual reports, financial statements, or tax returns of the organization.
Evidence of membership. Include documentation of the employee’s membership in the religious denomination for at least the two years immediately before filing the I-360 petition. A letter from a pastor, for example, would suffice.
If the petition is for a minister, copies of educational and ordination documentation. If the religious denomination does not have a prescribed theological education requirement, submit copies of documents outlining the ordination process and showing that the employee satisfied all the requirements.
Proof of two years’ experience. The employer will need to submit documentation to confirm that the employee completed two years of qualifying employment immediately before filing the I-360 petition. A letter from the employer with any relevant supporting documents, such as W-2 wage reports, are examples of acceptable evidence.
Filing fee. This was $435 as of 2019; check the Form I-360 page of the USCIS website for the latest. You can pay by check, money order, or by filling out and submitting USCIS Form G-1450, Authorization for Credit Card Transactions.