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Changes coming to religious worker visa program

Religious workers in Illinois, including ministers, may be eligible to apply for a specific type of employment-based visa. Called an EB-4, or employment-based fourth-preference visa, this option can enable religious workers to immigrate to the U.S. or adjust their status once they are in the country. It requires them to have a full-time, compensated job in their religious profession for acceptance. While there is no cap on this visa program for ministers, a cap has been in place for non-minister religious workers of 5,000 special immigrant visas per year.

However, non-ministers may also be concerned as the special immigrant visa program is scheduled to end on Sept. 30, 2019. The category was extended by President Donald Trump after an earlier planned expiry on Feb. 15. Non-ministers who wish to immigrate or adjust their status to become permanent residents in this category should be sure to do so before Sept. 30 in order to protect their eligibility. This change applies to people with a religious occupation or vocation working in professional and non-professional positions and their spouses. It does not apply to ministers and their spouses, however, for whom the visa program will continue without interruption.

The eligibility criteria for this type of visa include membership in a bona fide religious denomination that has been recognized as a non-profit organization for at least two years and holding a full-time, paid job in that organization. In addition, applicants must be able to show that they have ongoing experience as a religious worker or minister, including continuous work for the two years before their application.

Religious workers may be especially concerned about how the changes to the law might affect their ability to remain in the country or become permanent residents. An immigration law attorney may provide advice and guidance for people affected by the change.

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