Over the years, many religious workers have come to California through a special immigrant visa program designed for exactly this purpose. Ministers and non-ministers have been eligible to immigrate to the United States or adjust their status to permanent residency under the employment-based, fourth-preference visa program of EB-4. This has been particularly important for religious institutions primarily serving immigrant communities. While there is no annual cap on the number of ministers who can receive these visas every year, non-ministers have been restricted in the past to only 5,000 approved visas every year.
This program is seeing significant changes, however. The non-minister visa program was set to expire completely but received an extension on Feb. 15, 2019, when President Donald Trump signed a bill that included a prolongation of the visa category. This change only delayed the sunset period to Sept. 30; religious workers who want to take advantage of the opportunity must fully complete their applications before that time. Ministers and their spouses will not see any change to their eligibility for the visas, but the non-minister program will expire with the sunset period.
There are multiple criteria used to assess an application to adjust status or come to the U.S. as a religious worker. The person must be a member of a religion that has been recognized as a non-profit organization in the U.S. for at least two years. In the two-year period before applying, they must have a demonstrated record of performing religious work. In addition, they must be coming for a full-time, paid job.
People who were planning to seek a green card and adjust their status under this program may be worried about the changes. An immigration law attorney may provide advice and guidance about the options available to religious workers to protect their status or become permanent residents.