Green Cards for Religious Workers

Religious workers are considered special immigrants that fall under the fourth preference category of employment-based immigration.

A person who has been a member for the past two years of a religious denomination that has a bona fide, nonprofit organization in the US and has been carrying on ministerial, professional or vocation work for the same period may apply for a green card

S/he must come to the US solely for the purpose of either: carrying his/ her vocation as a minister; or if before October 1, 2008, working as a professional in a religious vocation or occupation, or to work in a 501 (c) (3) affiliate in a religious occupation or vocation. A person who seeks to work as a minister may still file a petition on or after October 1, 2008.

Who are Religious Workers

A minister is one who is authorized by a religious denomination to conduct worship and to perform other duties of the clergy.

Working in a professional capacity means an occupation for which the minimum requirement is a bachelor’s degree or its foreign equivalent.

Religious occupation or vocation is any activity involving traditional religious functions. This includes priests, nuns or monks. Those who will perform administrative and other support functions for the religious organization are not included.

Religious Occupation

While the definition of a “minister” is rather clear and uncontested, the same could not be said of the term “religious occupation.”

The concept of “religious occupation” has been a contentious point in recent years. Initially, the US Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) had construed this so narrowly as to exclude secular work.

A federal court reviewing a recent USCIS decision, however, subsequently relaxed the above requirements. A job that has a secular aspect does not automatically lose its character as a religious occupation, as long as it has “some religious significance.”


The petitioner must file the I-360 form with the USCIS with supporting documents such as a letter from the authorized official of the religious organization certifying to the applicant’s membership in and religious work for the religious denomination during the past 2 years; a letter from the authorized official of the religious organization showing that the duties of the proposed employment meet the above-discussed requirements; and evidence showing that the religious organization is bona fide and is a tax-exempt organization under Section 501 (c) (3) of the 1986 Internal Revenue Code.

At present, fourth preference employment-based visa numbers are available and current, meaning there are no significant delays expected in the processing of immigrant visa applications.