Ministers and non-ministers in religious vocations and occupations may immigrate to (or adjust status in) the U.S. for the purpose of performing religious work in a full-time compensated position.

Religious workers are divided into three subcategories: ministers, professionals and workers in a religious occupation or vocation. Ministers are people authorized by the religion to conduct worship services and perform other functions. It does not include lay persons who participate in services but are not authorized to perform the duties of a minister. A professional religious position is one for which the minimum requirement is a baccalaureate degree. A religious occupation is where one traditionally part of the work of the denomination. It does not include support staff such as clerks or maintenance workers. Typical examples would be missionaries, counselors and liturgical workers. A religious vocation is a calling to the religious life with a demonstrable commitment to that life such as taking vows. Typical in this category would be monks and nuns.

There is a statutory numerical limit (or “cap”) of 5,000 workers who may be issued a special immigrant non-minister religious worker visa during each fiscal year. There is no cap for special immigrant religious workers entering the U.S. solely for the purpose of carrying on the vocation of a minister.

To be eligible in the religious worker visa category, you must:

  • have been a member of a bona fide non-profit religious denomination for at least two years prior to filing the petition;
  • have been working continuously as a religious minister in a religious vocation or in a religious occupation (either professional or non-professional capacity) for the past two years immediately prior to filing the immigrant petition. This work may be done either in or out of the U.S. In most cases where the work is done in the U.S., the person has been in the U.S. on an R-1 visa, the nonimmigrant visa given to religious workers;
  • seek to enter the United States solely to carry out such religious occupation of the employer’s denomination. 

Petition must be accompanied by:

  • evidence that the organization qualifies as a nonprofit religious organization in the form of an Internal Revenue Service tax-exempt documentation;
  • letter from an authorized official of the religious organization in the United States establishing membership for at least two (2) years in the religious denomination and two years experience as a minister, professional or worker in a religious occupation or vocation immediately preceding the filing of the petition;
  • letter that certifies the individual is authorized to perform the duties of a minister, or is qualified in the religious occupation or vocation.


A special immigrant religious worker’s spouse and unmarried children under the age of 21 may accompany or follow to join the principal religious worker or adjust status in the United States.