* A federal appeals court ruled that the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) can deny a special immigrant religious worker visa to ministers who did not work full time in the ministry for the two years preceding their visa petition, even though federal law does not directly require two years of full-time employment. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) denied a Hawaiian Presbyterian church’s petition for a “special immigrant religious worker” visa for its minister. The church appealed, claiming that the CIS erred in requiring it to prove that its pastor had worked full time as a minister during the two years immediately preceding the visa petition.
Federal immigration law specifies that a minister may qualify for a special immigrant religious worker visa only if he or she (1) has been a member of a bona fide religious denomination for at least two years, (2) “seeks to enter the United States solely for the purpose of carrying on the vocation of a minister of that religious denomination,” and (3) “has been carrying on such vocation continuously for at least the [immediately preceding] 2-year period.” The law does not specifically require religious workers to carry on their vocations full time during the two years preceding their petitions for a special immigrant religious worker visa, but neither does it prevent such an interpretation.
The court concluded that the CIS’s adoption of a full-time employment requirement was consistent with previous cases. To illustrate, in Matter of Faith Assembly Church, 19 I. & N. Dec. 391 (BIA 1986), a court held that “part-time ministerial employment” did not qualify a minister for special immigrant classification. The court explained that the law “requires the minister to have been and intend to be engaged solely as a minister of a religious denomination.” Hawaii Saeronam Presbyterian Church v. Ziglar, 243 Fed.Appx. 224 (9th Cir. 2007).