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The Site Investigation: What Your Religious Organization Should Expect

Posted on Monday, September 26, 2011

church temple pastor minister korean priest religious visa immigrant To combat fraud in the religious worker visa context, USCIS typically arranges for one or more on-site inspections of the petitioning religious organization. Moreover, your organization's R-1 petition for temporary work status as well as your organization's I-360 petition for Special Immigrant will not be processed until the site inspection has been completed. These inspections are made either by the fraud detection unit of the local USCIS field office or by hired contractors, such as local police officers, government contractors, or other non-USCIS employees.

It is important for the site investigation to be completed in order to petition for I-360 and R-1 beneficiaries in the future. Completion of the site visit process also allows your organization to utilize premium processing, if it so desires. Since the processing of R-1 nonimmigrant petitions include procedures such as inspections, evaluations, verifications and compliance reviews (all of which are designed to ensure the legitimacy of the petitioner and statements made in the petition), the government cannot reasonably ensure the processing of R-1 nonimmigrant petitions within 15 calendar days for those petitioners who have not previously had a successful completion of a site inspection.

Accordingly, USCIS will accept filing of the Form I-907, Request for Premium Processing Service, only from those religious organizations that have previously had successful completion of a site inspection at the location where the beneficiary will be employed. Prior to accepting this form, USCIS will conduct an internal system search in order to verify whether or not a successful site inspection was completed at the location where the beneficiary will work. The petitioner may choose to submit a copy of a Form I-797 approval notice for a previously approved R petition to help make it easier for the government to locate the petitioner's site inspection record.

Some of the elements of a site inspection include interviews with officials of the organization, tours of the organization’s facilities, interviews with other personnel and/or officials at the organization, reviews of employer records, or reviews of other records determined to be pertinent to the case by USCIS. Fraud inspectors use what is called an audit compliance sheet to conduct their investigation. Specific questions to be asked, along with a list of locations and documentation to be reviewed, are set out in the audit compliance sheet with the aim of ensuring consistency with all attestations previously made in the religious worker petition.

While the traditional method of investigation is on-site, another method by which USCIS may investigate R-1 petitioning organizations is through web searches, such as through "Google", "Yahoo", or "Bing" (among others), or by utilizing online programs such as "Google Earth" to investigate the petitioner's location. It is good practice for petitioning organizations to do a self-search of their organization online in order to ensure that the information available is accurate and complete. If the petitioner's own website (if they have one) is detailed and the information on it is consistent with the materials submitted with the religious worker petition, USCIS may end up deciding that a physical site visit is unnecessary.

It is also possible for USCIS to do both and/or for it to conduct more than one site visit. The results of the investigation are written up in a report, which is then forwarded to the appropriate service center before adjudication of the case takes place. Because inspections are routine and likely to occur more than fifteen days after filing an R-1 Visa petition (due to the fact that USCIS must first assign an inspector and then prepare for, conduct, and complete the inspection), premium processing is not realistically possible for such cases. In our experience as attorney advocates for religious organizations filing such petitions, some of the information requested in an investigation include the following (this list is not meant to be extensive):

1. The number of R-1 petitions filed by the organization in the past, along with the names and job positions of the beneficiaries, whether the beneficiaries became permanent residents, and how long the beneficiaries stayed with the organization after becoming permanent residents.

2. The duties of the alien, including what he or she does during each day of the week and the total numbers of hours of work per week.

3. The financials of the organization, including revenue, expenses, budget reports, bank account statements, deposit slips, and check issued in the last few months, including pay stubs.

4. The number of congregation members.

In addition to questioning the director of the organization, USCIS will also question the beneficiary of the petition. Some of the questions to the alien may include the job title, salary, ordination license (if applicable), education, how long alien has been a member of the organization or denomination, whether the job position is a new one, how and why alien was offered the job, and so on.

Site visits may be scheduled or unannounced, making advanced preparation essential. Any organization planning to file an R-1, Religious Worker Visa should be prepared for an inspection of their facilities and documents. Organizations should prepare, or have prepared for them, written guidelines regarding site visits laying out who should be notified of the pending petition (before filing for the R-1 Visa), which senior person in the organization should be notified when the site inspector arrives, and which employees USCIS officers may interview.

Law firms with extensive experience in the field, such as Immigration Law Associates, are best able to assist organization representatives, as well as their religious worker beneficiaries, in preparing such documents. They are also essential to preparing for the investigation itself.  We look forward to helping you with your case. You may click here to contact us by email, or call us during business hours at 847-763-8500.

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