The U.S. Department of State recently announced visa backlogs in the immigrant visa category that covers religious workers. These backlogs will affect the ability of religious workers from certain countries to apply for U.S. immigrant visas or for adjustment of status to lawful permanent residents of the United States. The U.S. government only makes available a limited number of visas each year for immigrants in what is known as the employment-based fourth preference visa category or EB-4 category, which covers special immigrant religious workers. For many years this category has always had enough visas available to satisfy the annual demand for them. But this is no longer the case, and on May 1, 2016 the State Department had to institute a priority date for EB-4 visas for citizens of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras to manage surging demand. On July 1, 2016 it will be instituting a priority date for EB-4 visas for citizens of Mexico as well. At the moment only religious workers from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras whose I-360s were filed before January 1, 2010 are able to receive adjustment of status or an immigrant visa. Others will have to wait until the priority date advances before their adjustment of status or immigrant visa applications can be approved. This same priority date will apply to religious workers from Mexico beginning July 1, 2016. Furthermore, the Department of State warns that it does not anticipate any advancement in this priority date for the rest of the fiscal year.
Although El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico are the only countries currently affected by this change, the Department of State has warned that it may have to institute a priority date for immigrant visa and adjustment applicants from India in the EB-4 category in the coming months.
Please note that this announcement affects only religious workers seeking lawful permanent residence in the United States through the EB-4 category for special immigrant religious workers. It does not affect religious workers seeking R-1 non-immigrant status. Religious organizations may continue to file R-1 petitions for religious workers of all nationalities as usual.
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