Fourth Preference: The Special Immigrant Category
Foreign nationals seeking a Green Card through employment must qualify for one of the available categories of employment-based immigration. Typically, an applicant must either prove that he is one of the finest contributors to his field, or his employer must prove that there are no qualified U.S. workers to fill the position.
The Fourth Preference category for Special Immigrants (EB-4) is a unique option for a variety of individuals, including certain broadcasters, Iraqi/Afghan translators, Panama Canal Zone employees, international organization employees, religious workers, and several others. In our practice we find that religious workers are the group most likely to qualify for the EB-4 option.
The EB-4 category allows the foreign national to self-petition as long as s/he has a qualifying position with a qualifying employer. No labor certification is required, and there is no need to prove that the religious worker is outstanding in his field.
What kinds of religious workers may qualify?
Both ministers (including imams, priests, pastors, rabbis and similar congregational leaders) and non-ministers in religious occupations may qualify for the EB-4 category. The applicant’s position must be full-time religious work for which he is compensated.
There is a cap of 5,000 visas for non-minister religious workers during each fiscal year. No such cap exists for those entering the U.S. for the purpose of carrying on the vocation of a minister.
Periodically, the allocation of visas for non-minister religious workers must be renewed by Congress. The most recent renewal occurred on September 28, 2012. Non-ministers will now be permitted to apply for permanent residence in the EB-4 category through September 30, 2015.
Eligibility criteria for EB-4 religious workers
- Those who qualify for permanent residence in the EB-4 category may bypass the lengthy and complex labor certification process.
- The religious worker may file his or her own petition, and does not have to prove any kind of exceptional ability.
- The EB-4 category is almost always “current”, which means that there is no wait for a visa number once the immigrant petition is approved.
- The EB-4 criteria do not apply to all religious workers who may be eligible for permanent residence through employment.
The Form I-360 Petition for Special Immigrant may be filed either by the foreign national himself, or by the denomination for which he intends to work as a U.S. permanent resident. Both the employer and immigrant must supply documents to prove that the all applicable criteria are met. An especially important element of a successful petition is verifiable evidence that the religious organization has the ability to pay the religious worker.
Once the I-360 is approved, the beneficiary may file his or her immigrant visa application (if outside the U.S.) or adjustment of status application (if already in the U.S.)
USCIS typically requires 5-7 months to approve an I-360 petition. Another 4-6 months are ordinarily required for immigrant visa issuance or approval of the adjustment of status application.
The EB-4 preference category is an excellent option for qualifying religious workers and for religious organizations for which they desire to work on a permanent basis.