From R1 Visa to Permanent Resident: How to Apply for EB-4 Green Card (Special Immigrant Religious Worker)

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer. This is not legal advice. I am only sharing our experience for educational and entertainment purposes. Please do your due diligence when applying for any immigration process.

If you’ve had your R1 Visa and been working for two years as a religious worker in the USA, then you are eligible to apply for a green card. After all, the R1 visa has dual intent, meaning that while it is a nonimmigrant visa, there is a path toward becoming a permanent resident in the US. Here are several tips for how you can move from the R1 visa to become a permanent resident.

For this article, the terms “green card,” “immigrant visa,” “permanent residence,” and “EB-4 visa” are used interchangeably to refer to the green card for special immigrant religious workers.

You’re eligible to apply for a green card after two (2) years of having the R1 visa.

I officially started my religious worker job in the US in May 2015. I moved to the US with my family. My wife and our son were given the R2 visa. Technically, we were eligible to apply for a green card in May 2017. But because of work responsibilities and some confusion on my part, we ended up applying in 2018. 

Renew your R1 visa, then apply for a green card.

The R1 visa is good for a maximum of five (5) years. Most of the time, though, the first R1 visa is good for 2.5 years or 30 months. We decided to renew our R1 visa because of two main reasons:

  • There are significant delays in processing Green Card applications. 
  • We did not want to be out of status in case our application takes longer than expected. 

We renewed our R1 visa, got extended for another 2.5 years. Then we started the Green Card application process.

Check with your employer if they will pay for your Green Card application.

Before I moved to the US, my supervisor and my employer made it clear that they will be paying for my visa process. Actually, they even paid for it to be expedited because they needed me soon. They also paid for my passport renewal fees and for the fees associated with my visa renewal. Yeah, my employer was generous! 

However, we were responsible for my wife and son’s visa renewal fees. I asked about the green card process, and my supervisor and HR told me that we were going to be responsible for the green card fees. 

How much does it cost to apply for EB-4 Green Card Special Immigrant Religious Worker?

It is expensive! But some options are more expensive than others. I created a video talking about the cost of a green card application. Watch that video below:

If you want a text breakdown, please read this: http://cluelessintheus.com/how-much-does-it-cost-to-apply-for-a-green-card-in-the-usa/ 

If you want to engage the services of a lawyer, expect to spend about $10,000 to $20,000 for a family of three. 

We applied for our Green Card without a lawyer. I just prepared all the paperwork. It cost us under $4,000 back in 2018. 

Given this expense, save money early for your Green Card fees!

Step-by-step process for the Green Card process.

You need to understand the green card application process carefully, especially if you will apply without the help of a lawyer. Read the instructions carefully. If there are people in your network who have gone through the process, ask them questions and see what you can learn from their experience. 

Expect delays in this process!! 

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, the USCIS has had significant backlogs and delays in processing. We started the process in May 2018 and the whole process took us 15 months! My colleague, who applied in 2016, did the whole process in 6 months! Fast forward to 2022, and a friend of mine had theirs for 30 months!

For our full timeline, check out this post: http://cluelessintheus.com/our-green-card-timeline/ 

Step 1. File your USCIS Form I-360: Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant.

You are essentially self-petitioning if your organization is not doing this for you. If you have your R1 Visa supporting documents, take those out of your filing boxes, they will come in handy and those documents will be useful for your I-360 application! 

One important pre-requisite is that your employer still wants to employ you and that your position is open as long as you will be granted the EB-4 immigrant visa.

Read the Form I-360 carefully, including the instructions. Go to this link to download this form and the instructions: https://uscis.gov/i-360

After you send your I-360 application, the USCIS will send you a reference number that you can use to monitor your application. You can also create a free account at MyUSCIS for this purpose. 

If you want to check how long processing times are for I-360 applications, go to http://egov.uscis.gov/processing-times

If your application is approved, you will receive Form I-797C, Notice of Action from the USCIS. If they need additional information, you will receive a Request for Evidence (RFE). In some cases, your application may be denied outright. Or you may receive a notice informing you that the USCIS has the “intention to deny” your petition.

If your application is approved, congratulations! You can proceed to the next step: Adjustment of Status (USCIS Form I-485).

Step 2: File your USCIS Form I-485: Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status

You can download this form and the instructions for this form at http://uscis.gov/i-485.

Let me warn you that this is a long form. As always, if you are doing this for yourself, make sure you devote enough time to do it. I created a step-by-step video to help you out. Watch that video below.

Don’t forget USCIS Form I-693: Report of Medical Examination and Vaccination Record!

This is going to be an important part of your application to adjust your status. The form and its instructions can be found here: https://www.uscis.gov/i-693. You have the option to do send this together with your I-485 application. But in our case, we ended up waiting a few months before doing it because I thought that the medical certificate is only good for one year. So we waited for the Request for Evidence (RFE) before sending this in.

Apply for I-765 (Employment Authorization Document) and I-131 (Advance Parole or Travel Document) together with your I-485

Since you are applying for your adjustment of status, you might as well include two other important forms:

Form I-765: Employment Authorization Document This will grant you and your spouse and other dependents the opportunity to work for any type of employment in the USA. Remember that under R1 Visa, you cannot take any secular employment. And R2 visa holders cannot work at all! So this will definitely be helpful to your family income. Another reason why you should consider applying for this is that USCIS Form I-485 tends to be slow because of backlogs. The form I-765 will most likely be processed sooner than your I-485. If you need help filling out this form, I created a video guide for you:

USCIS Form I-131: Application for Advance Parole / Travel Document – This form will help you get your advance parole or travel document in case you need to travel outside the US before your green card application is approved. If your work requires you to travel or you need to go back to your home country because of some family emergency, then the advance parole will grant you the chance to re-enter the USA without adverse impact on your immigration status and your green card application.

Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to fill out Form I-131:

How long does the whole Green Card Application Process take?

It takes a while for this whole process to play out. In our case, it took us 15 months! But lately, there had been some delays and backlogs. Here’s a video of how long it will take:

IF YOU HAVE QUESTIONS ABOUT THE PROCESS OF APPLYING FOR A GREEN CARD FOR RELIGIOUS WORKERS, LET ME KNOW IN THE COMMENTS!

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