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Immigration visas for religious workers

Those who want to come to South Carolina or to remain in the state for work as a foreign religious worker may apply to do so. U.S. Immigration law has a special class of immigrant visas specifically for religious workers. The visas are available for ministers as well as non-minister religious workers.

The classification is an employment preference visa. For non-ministers, the cap is set at 5,000 workers who may enter each year under the program. Ministers who come to the country to lead a church are not subjected to a cap.

There are several eligibility requirements. The employee must have been a member of a religion that has a non-profit organization in the country for at least two years prior to submitting his or her application. The person must be entering in order to work full time as a paid employee for the religion or for the non-profit organization as a minister in a religious occupation or a religious vocation. The person must also have worked in the capacity for at least two years prior to the application. Breaks in employment are allowed if the break was to allow the person to pursue further religious education. Both the employee as well as the religious organization will also be required to submit a number of documents verifying the employment, the rate of pay, the tax-exempt status, proof of the employee's previous religious work as well as his or her membership in the religion.

There are several different types of employment visas for people working in various industries. Religious workers may apply for the visa before coming into the country or, if they are already in South Carolina, they may apply for an adjustment of status. Eligible workers may want to meet with an immigration law attorney in order to get assistance.

Source: US CIS, "Special Immigrant Religious Workers," Accessed on Jan. 9, 2015

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