Religious Workers (EB-4)

Religious workers are either ministers of religion, professionals working in religious vocations or occupations, and others working in religious vocations or occupations. The law requires an individual, for at least 2 years immediately preceding the date of the application, to have been a member of a religious denomination that is a bona fide nonprofit, religious organization in the United States. Further, the person must enter solely to be a minister of that religious denomination or to work for the organization in a professional capacity.

Filing of I-360 Immigrant Visa Petition-Step 1
All Religious Worker immigrant visa petitions are filed with the USCIS on Form I-360 and must include all supporting evidence.

Issue – Priority Date
A priority date is established on the date the I-360 petition is filed with the USCIS. The priority date determines a person’s place in the queue of a specific employment-based preference category. Priority dates are allocated based upon a person’s country of birth, not nationality. For example, a person applying for Second Preference Employment Category (EB-2) with a Japanese passport, but born in India, would be classified under the Second Preference (EB-2) India quota.

Due to the current quota system, when an I-360 petition is approved, a person may need to wait until his/her priority date is at the “front of the line”.

Issue – Monitoring the Priority Date
Around the middle of every month, the U.S. Department of State (DOS) publishes the Visa Bulletin which summarizes the availability of immigrant numbers. Allocations of immigrant visa numbers are made in chronological order of priority date (i.e., date of filing the PERM application) under the numerical limitations imposed by law.

Section 201 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) imposes a worldwide annual limit of 140,000 employment-based immigrant visas. Section 202 of the INA prescribes that the per-country limit for all immigrants from a country be set at 7% of the total annual family-sponsored and employment-based preference limits, i.e., 25,620 per annum.

If the demand for available immigrant visas in a particular visa preference category exceeds supply, an immigrant visa cannot be issued until the Visa Bulletin shows the priority dates that can be allocated an immigrant visa. This is called the cut-off date. Only applicants with a priority date on or earlier than the cut-off date in his/her preference category may be allotted an immigrant visa number.

If an individual’s priority date is indicated as “C” in the Visa Bulletin, this means there are immigrant visa immediately available for persons in the listed classification. The “C” stands for “Current”. If the Visa Bulletin shows a “U” for a particular preference category, this means immigrant visas are unavailable. The “U” stands for “Unavailable”.

Approval of the I-360 Petition
When the USCIS approves the I-360 petition, a Form I-797 Approval Notice is issued. Once the I-360 petition is approved and the priority date is current, an individual must decide which process to undertake to complete the second and final step in processing the green card application: Adjustment of Status Application or Consular Processing.

Adjustment of Status (Form I-485)-Step 2: Option 1
Once an I-360 petition is approved, the person’s priority date is current, he/she is legally present in the United States, and the person wishes to adjust his or her status from nonimmigrant to immigrant while in the United States, the person files a Form I-485 Adjustment of Status application with the USCIS. All family members intending to immigrate with the principal applicant (i.e. spouse and minor unmarried children under the age of 21 years) should file an adjustment of status application concurrent with the principal applicant. All applicants must submit medical examinations to the USCIS.  Further, all applicants over the age of 14 must undergo fingerprinting and a FBI background check.

Issue-Travel and Employment During the Adjustment of Status Process
When an adjustment of status application is filed, the principal applicant and each family member may apply for an Employment Authorization Card (EAD), which authorizes employment in the U.S., and an Advance Parole (AP), which authorized international travel and re-entry into the U.S.  The USCIS often issues one document that combines the employment authorization and the advance parole.  This document is called a Combo Card.

As long as the adjustment of status application is filed prior to the expiration of a person’s nonimmigrant status, the person is deemed “in-status” and can remain in the United States after expiration of his/her nonimmigrant status. Application for a Combo Card should be submitted with the I-485 to avoid any gap in employment.

The AP is a critical document if a person does not possess a valid H-1 or L-1 visa because, after the submission of an I-485, neither the principal applicant nor his/her family members may leave the United States without first obtaining the AP. If such a person departs the U.S. without first obtaining an AP, that individual may not be readmitted into the United States.

All nonimmigrant visa classifications, other than H-1 or L-1, require issuance of an AP to return to the U.S. after international travel while an Adjustment of Status application is pending. If a person has a valid H-1 or L-1 visa, he or she may continue to work and travel utilizing the H-1 or L-1 visa as long as his/her status remains valid and he/she is returning to the U.S. to continue employment with the same petitioning company that sponsored the H-1 or L-1 status. H-4 or L-2 visa holders may continue to travel and legally remain in the United States.

Issue-Delays Due to Lengthy FBI Background Checks

When the USCIS processes the I-485, all applicants under the age of 14 years must undergo a FBI background check. For some individuals, the FBI background check is completed very quickly, sometimes in a few months. For others, the process can take longer, sometimes many months. The USCIS issues a Biometrics Appointment Notice to each family member requiring an FBI background check. Each person is directed to go to an Application Support Center (ASC) and have his/her fingerprints scanned for the check.

Issue-Delays Due to Personal Interview at USCIS District Office

Effective October 1, 2017 all individuals and all accompanying family members seeking to immigrate through employer sponsorship must undergo personal interviews at local USCIS District Offices.  Waiver of interviews is no longer permitted.

Approval of the I-485
When the USCIS approves the I-485, a Form I-797 Approval Notice is issued. The USCIS then manufactures the I-551, Alien Registration Receipt (commonly known as a green card) and mails it to the applicant.

Consular Processing of Immigrant Visa-Step 2: Options 2

The alternative option to the Adjustment of Status application is the Consular Processing.  When choosing the Adjustment of Status option a person is seeking final interview in the U.S.  When choosing the Consular Processing option, a person is seeking final interview at the overseas U.S. consulate in the person’s home country.

After an I-360 is approved by the USCIS, if a person chooses the Consular Processing option, the USCIS will transfer the I-360 file to the National Visa Center (NVC). Upon receipt of the file, the NVC will issue a notice the file has been received. If the person’s priority date is not yet current, the NVC informs the person his/her file will remain at the NVC for storage.

Once a person’s priority date is current, the NVC issues an Immigrant Fee Bill requesting the individual to pay the immigrant visa application fee to the NVC. When NVC receives the payment from the applicant, NVC issues instruction for completing the registration forms.  Further, the NVC issues a list of required documents for submission to the NVC, such as police clearance certificates, military records, marriage certificates, etc. Upon receipt of the completed registration forms and required documents, the NVC transfers the file to the appropriate overseas U.S. consulate and schedules the immigrant visa interview date.

Upon U.S. consulate receipt of the file from the NVC, the case data is entered into the U.S. consulate’s case tracking system.  The person must return to his/her home country to undergo a medical examination with a U.S. consulate designated physician and attend a personal interview.

After the immigrant visa interview, the applicant is issued an immigrant visa. The applicant must enter the United States within six months of immigrant visa issuance. Failure to make an entry within six months renders the immigrant visa invalid. Further, the principal applicant must either enter before his/her family members or at the same time.

When entering the United States for the first time after immigrant visa issuance, the applicant is inspected at the U.S. land border or airport and the immigrant visa validated. The admission stamp placed on the immigrant visa validates it and demonstrates the applicant is a U.S. lawful permanent resident. The actual green card is mailed to the individual’s residence in the United States.