On April 25, 2007, USCIS published a proposed rule (72 Fed.Reg. 20442) that would amend the current regulations regarding the special immigrant and nonimmigrant visa classifications for religious workers. Written comments are due by June 25, 2007. Specifically, USCIS proposes to:
- Impose a petition filing requirement as a prerequisite for obtaining an R-1 nonimmigrant visa at a U.S. consulate (in the past, a religious worker could have applied for an R-1 visa without a prior approval by USCIS of the employer’s I-129 petition);
- Require the petitioning employer to complete and submit an attestation along with the I-129 (nonimmigrant) or I-360 (immigrant) petition filing, confirming the nature of the duties in the United States, the alien’s qualifications, and the legitimacy of the job offer;
- Introduce on-site inspections for religious organizations that sponsor religious workers for nonimmigrant and immigrant visas in order to ensure the integrity of the program, in light of a high level of fraud that has been identified by USCIS;
- Introduce new evidentiary requirements for petitioning employers (religious organizations) by specifically requiring them to submit a currently valid determination letter from the Internal Revenue Service regarding the tax-exempt status;
- Simplify the religious worker definition by dividing it into three categories: ministers, individuals engaged in a religious vocation, and individuals engaged in a religious occupation (those within the latter two categories could be professionals or nonprofessionals); and
- Change the standard period of stay for the R-1 visa category to an initial one-year period with two potential extensions of two years each, for a total of five years (at present, the initial period of stay can be authorized for three years, with one potential extension of two years, for a total 5-year period of stay).