On November 26, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) published its final regulation for Special Immigrant and nonimmigrant religious workers (R-1) visa categories. The new rules have been specifically designed to detect and deter fraud in these visa systems. The R-1 Visa category had become a hot bed of fraud owing to lax rules regarding the process. For instance, the request for an R-1 religious worker visa could be made at any consular post or even a US ‘port of entry’ by any foreign worker, without needing to prove the existence or validity of either the religious organization or the job offer.
The new final rule requires the Employer to submit a formal petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker (Form I-129) to USCIS. On approval, the foreign religious worker will have to submit the approval notice to an US embassy or consulate to get the visa. Additionally, the new regulations will also allow USCIS to conduct on-site inspections of organizations.
In order to clear up the ambiguous nature of the old rule, USCIS has changed the definitions of various terms, making them simple and direct. Under the new regulations, the initial period of stay has been reduced to 30 months from the earlier 3-year (36 months) period. This has been done to allow USCIS more to review extension requests.
Summary of changes:
- Employers will need to formally submit either Form I-129 for R-1s and Form I-360 for special immigrants, complete with attestations to verify the worker’s qualifications, the nature of the job offered, and the legitimacy of the organization.
- Petitioners will be required to submit a letter from the IRS to prove their tax-exempt status. The petitioner is also required to fill the Religious Denomination Certification that establishes its tax-exempt status. If a petitioner cannot get the “religious organizations” classification from the IRS, it will be required to prove so otherwise.
- USCIS will conduct onsite inspections of organizations if it deems it necessary to verify the information provided.
- If an organization fails such an inspection, a Notice of Intent to Deny (NOID) will be issued against it. The petitioner will then have the opportunity to contest it. If the petition is denied, the petitioner can appeal to the Administrative Appeals Office (AAO).
- Initial period of stay for R-1 holders is now 30 months, instead of 36 months. It can be extended for another 30 months.
- New interpretation of “qualifying prior work experience” allows for including experience in positions not similar to the job offered.
- The rule will now allow for a short break in the mandatory two-year religious work experience, provided the time was spent in religious training or sabbatical etc.
The new rule defines the terms
- “Denominational Membership
- Religious Denomination”
And re-defines the terms
- Religious Vocation
- Religious Occupation
Procedures for revocation of R-1 approvals, similar to other immigrant petitions, have been established. For further details go to USCIS Website