A church or other religious organization can sponsor its workers/members for proper documentation to reside in the US permanently, commonly known as green cards.
The religious members do not have to be present in the US to start the process.
Also there is no requirement to have a valid R-1 visa before applying for a green card.
Basic requirements are very similar to the Religious Worker visa requirements:
The candidate must work for a religious organization in a traditionally religious function: such as liturgical workers, religious instructors, religious counselors, cantors, religious school teachers, workers in religious hospitals or religious health care facilities, missionaries, religious translators, or religious broadcasters.
The regulations exclude maintenance workers, not religious in nature, e.g. janitors, drivers, clerks, fund raisers, etc.
The sponsoring organization must meet the requirements of R-1 visa, meaning it has to be a tax-exempt organization under the Internal Revenue Service code.
the main distinction with the R-1 requirements is that the green card candidate must have at least two years of experience in a religious capacity. The experience does not have to be paid, it does not have to be full-time but it must be continuous (this is a very important criteria and must be properly documented).
To start the green card process, a religious organization must submit an application, letter from a designated official and other supporting documentation confirming the intent to employ the applicant permanently.
The paperwork must be submitted to the Department of Homeland Security in the US, regardless where the green card applicant is located.
When the application is approved, the applicant may schedule an appointment with a US Consulate abroad to obtain a visa to reside in America. If the candidate is already in the US in R-1 or a different status, no need to exit the US, the whole process can be done without leaving and the green card will be sent via postal service.
The whole process takes around a year. So, please start planning early to avoid unnecessary delays and inconveniences. We help our clients not only submit paperwork on time but to plan and strategize legal matters in the future.