Pope Francis is gracing the United States with a papal visit that urges United States leaders “not to turn their back” on immigrants coming to the United States. The Pope’s solution to the global immigration crises is for all nations to follow the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” 

The Pontiff’s visit and message placed the spotlight on religious worker visa options that are available to religious organizations who might consider hiring religious personnel to respond to the Pope’s call for compassion. Ministers or religious workers may enter the United States to work full time in a compensated position if they have been members of a bona fide religious organization for at least two years prior to seeking a visa.

A minister qualifies for admission under the following conditions:

  1. Fully authorized and trained in religious denomination to conduct religious worship and perform other duties usually performed by clergy of denomination;
  2. Is not a lay preacher or a person not authorized to perform clergy’s duties;
  3. Performs activities rationally related to being a minister; and
  4. Works solely as a minister in the United States, which may include incidental administrative duties. May be part-time (20 hours per week);
  5. Deacons, practitioners of Christian Science and officers of the Salvation Army may be deemed ministers.

A religious worker qualifies for admission under the following conditions:

  1. Member of a religious denomination for at least two years immediately preceding the time of application for admission that has a bona fide nonprofit religious organization in the United States;
  2. Must be coming to work at least in a part-time position (20 hours);
  3. Must be coming to perform a religious vocation or occupation in either a professional or nonprofessional capacity;
    • Religious Occupation — The duties must primarily relate to: (i) a traditional religious function and be recognized as a religious occupation within the denomination; (ii) clearly involve inculcating or carrying out the religious creed and beliefs of the denomination; (iii) not include positions that are primarily administrative or support such as janitors, maintenance workers, clerical employees, fundraisers, person solely involved in solicitation of donations or similar positions but may include incidental administrative duties to religious functions; and (iv) not be solely for religious study or training for religious work, although a religious worker is not barred from such training or study.
    • Religious Vocation — A form of lifetime commitment through vows, investitures, ceremonies or similar indicia to a religious way of life such as nuns, monks, and religious brothers and sisters. Distinguished from secular members of the denomination.
    • Religious Denomination — A group or community of believers that is governed or administered under a common type of ecclesiastical government and includes one or more of the following: (i) common form of worship; (ii) common doctrine; (iii) common services; (iv) common established place of worship; or (v) comparable indicia.

Religious workers generally may obtain five years of status to work in the United States. However, religious workers may not work in the United States in any other capacity than as a minister or religious worker. Religious workers may work for more than one qualifying employer as long as each religious organization files a petition seeking a visa.