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Visa program to sunset for non-minister religious workers

Changes are going into effect for a special immigrant visa program designed to help religious workers immigrate to Indiana or elsewhere in the United States or adjust their status to receive permanent residency. The employment-based, fourth-preference visa program has historically been available to both ministers and non-ministers coming to the U.S. to perform full-time, paid religious work. In the past, non-ministers were restricted to only 5,000 visas issued every year. However, no restrictions were placed on applications from ministers and their spouses. Now, the non-minister program is scheduled to come to an end altogether.

The non-minister special immigrant visa program has faced several other expiration dates but has been renewed in the past. On Feb. 15, 2019, President Donald Trump signed a law that provided one more extension until Sept. 30. This means that non-ministers who want to apply for a green card or immigrate to the U.S. with a special religious worker visa must complete their application process before that date. The program for ministers will not be affected by the changes, however.

There are several criteria used to assess applications for religious worker immigration. Applicants must have been a member of a bona fide religious group for at least two years, and it must be recognized as a non-profit organization in the U.S. They must also be able to show that they have been continuously engaged in religious work as an adult, especially in the two years before applying to immigrate or adjust their status. The work they will perform in the U.S. must be full time and compensated.

Religious workers and their communities may be concerned about the effects of the changes on their ability to serve people in their areas. An immigration law attorney may work with people to complete their applications and help them seek permanent residency or protect their status.

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