Special Immigrant Visa: Religious Worker

By, Kristin Nolan, Guest Blogger

An SIV Visa, or a Special Immigrant Visa, is a special category of immigration visa that applies to three categories of persons: 1) Afghans and Iraqis who have served overseas alongside American soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq; 2) religious workers; and 3) those seeking employment-based visas with special circumstances.

Current Status:

The SIV program issues visas in the following categories: Afghan-Iraqi U.S. employees (average of 4,722 per year between 2007 – 2015; total amount varies per year based on visas granted), religious workers (5,000), and employees (140,000). The numbers of these available visas are subject to administration approval each year. In FY2018, the Trump Administration allocated 3,500 additional visas for Afghan applicants under the FY2018 NDAA for the SIV program.   

The Trump Administration’s America First policies and Muslim-majority country bans have affected the SIV program at large. Notably in the Afghan and Iraqi SIVs, and in the seasonal worker visas, which help to fuel a majority of summer harvesting seasons as well as seasonal summer resort towns which often hire those from the Caribbean. The Trump Administration approved the increase of certain Afghan visas, but has yet to release real data on those visas being issued.

 For Special Immigrant Visa FAQs, visit the first article in our series here.


Q: What does “religious worker” mean and what do those individuals do here in the U.S.?

A religious worker is a person of a faith who wishes to serve practitioners of that faith in the U.S., in their community of worship. An example of this might be a priest/rabbi/imam coming from abroad to serve as a priest/rabbi/imam in a U.S.-based church/synagogue/mosque for a few years, to complete his or her religious training.

While other visas are available for temporary religious workers through USCIS, the SIV visa is intended for those who seek to remain for multiple years, to serve their religious community. This visa grants Lawful Permanent Resident or “Green Card” status for the individual, their spouse, and children under 21.

Two types of religious worker visas exist: 1) a Minister of Religion (SD-category) within which the individual works solely as a minister of his/her particular religion; and 2) a Certain Religious Worker (SR-category) where the individual works in a religious vocation/occupation professionally or non-professionally.

Q: What faiths are included in the religious worker SIV?

All faiths are included in this SIV program, including and extending beyond the examples provided above. America was partially founded as a country for those of persecuted faith, enabling them to practice their religion freely; this tradition continues to exist today. Under the Trump Administration there has been a push to ban those traveling or entering from Muslim-majority countries. This has affected the overall SIV program.

Q: How many religious worker visas are issued every year?

The cap for religious workers is currently set at 5,000 visas per year. Data was unavailable for religious workers admitted in prior years.

Related Articles:  

Religious Worker Regulations: Five Years Later. Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc.

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