USCIS Appeals Office Grants Petitioner’s Motion to Reopen a Special Immigrant Religious Worker Petition – Which Confirms the Beneficiary Met the Two-Year Continuous Employment Requirement

On May 10, 2019, the USCIS Administrative Appeals Office ruled for a petitioner seeking a green card for a religious worker. The decision, a rare victory for a petitioner, found that a temple (gurudwara) submitted proper evidence to classify a beneficiary as a special immigrant religious worker – to work as a minister (granthi). The petition was based on a Form I-360 petition based, in turn, on the Immigration and Nationality Act (the Act) section 203(b)(4), 8 U.S.C. § l 153(b)(4).

The INA section authorizes immigration classification for:

  • Non-profit religious organizations (or their affiliates)
  • To hire foreign nationals as ministers
  • In religious vocations or other religious occupations
  • In the United States

The appeal was taken from the decision of the Director of the California Service Center. The Director had ruled that there wasn’t sufficient evidence to support:

  • How the beneficiary would be compensated by the Petitioner and
  • “That the beneficiary was continuously employed as a religious worker for at least two years immediately preceding the filing of the petition.”

The Appeals Office had previously dismissed the petitioner’s appeal because, though it had met the requirement to show how it would compensate the beneficiary – the petitioner had not met the requirement regarding the beneficiary’s prior two-year employment duty.

The petitioner submitted new evidence, in the form of a motion to reopen, on the two-year employment requirement which the Appeals Office of the USCIS found satisfactory.

The reasoning of the USCIS Appeals Office

The two-year period in question was May 25, 2015, to May 25, 2017. Previous evidence showed that the beneficiary “was employed as kirtan and granthi in India from December 2013 to February 2016, and was employed by the petitioning organization” for the rest of the two-year qualifying period.

In the prior decision, the appeals office noted that for February through April 2017 (the period immediately after the beneficiary entered the US), the evidence didn’t show that he was “continuously working in a compensated position as required.” As an example, the petitioner initially claimed the beneficiary relied on cash donations from congregation members – as a form of “self-support.” The petitioner had asserted that the cash was evidence of payment.

The Appeals Office found this prior position to have inconsistencies and that the support didn’t include room and board.

The new evidence

The petitioner, in the motion to reopen, now submits bank statements for the beneficiary from 4/18/2016 through 5/10/2016 – which show the beneficiary’s address was the same as the petitioner’s address.

The petitioner also submitted a “signed declaration from another of its granthis who resides on its premises, as well as his credit card statements which states that he and the other two resident granthis assisted the Beneficia1y upon his arrival in February.” This included helping the beneficiary obtain a mobile phone and account. This declaration and other letters from the congregation – verify the beneficiary’s employment and residency since February 2016.

There was also a letter from the Social Security Administration, dated 2/22/2016 to the beneficiary at the address of the petitioner.

When this new evidence is combined with prior evidence on the beneficiary’s housing accommodation, the Appeals Office was persuaded that the petitioner had shown that the beneficiary received compensation – “in the form of housing during the three-month period in question.”

By meeting the continuous two-year employment requirement, the request of the religious organization for a religious worker green card can now proceed. The motion to reopen was granted and the appeal was sustained.

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