R1 Religious Visas – Judge strikes down policy on religious visas

The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington recently ruled in Ruiz-Diaz v. United States that a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) regulation is “unreasonable and impermissible.” A federal judge has struck down a long-standing government policy that made it tougher for religious workers from other countries to remain in the United States. Chief U.S. District Judge Robert Lasnik wrote in an order issued last week that the policy was at odds with the intent of Congress.

Ruiz-Diaz potentially provides religious workers who have filed I-360 petitions with the ability to concurrently file adjustment of status applications. This would allow religious workers whose underlying R visa status is expiring (the R is valid for five years) to remain in the U.S. as adjustment of status applicants. At present, the I-360 approval process is lengthy, after which point the religious worker can file an adjustment application, due to the need to conduct a site investigation on each filing.

Under the Department of Homeland Security’s policy, religious workers who came to the United States on a typical five-year temporary visa were not allowed to file for permanent residency — their green card — until a separate visa petition by their employer had been approved.

The problem was that it frequently took a long time for the government to approve those visa petitions — and by the time it did, the religious workers had left the country because their temporary visas had expired. Workers in other categories, such as aerospace and technology, are allowed to file for permanent residency before, not after, their employer’s visa petition is approved, and can remain in the country while their application is pending. That amounted to discrimination against religious workers.

We welcome this decision and hope to see some changes in the Religious workers regulations to follow in the rest of the nation.

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