B-1 Visas for Missionaries
R 071557Z AUG 01
FM SECSTATE WASHDC
TO ALL DIPLOMATIC AND CONSULAR POSTS
SPECIAL EMBASSY PROGRAM
UNCLAS STATE 135944
E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: B-1 VISAS FOR MISSIONARIES
REF: 9 FAM 41.31 NOTE 6.1-3
1. VO has recently received inquiries from a religious group claiming that applicants for visas to perform missionary work the U.S. who are ineligible for R status because they have no been members of the religious organization for two years, are not alternatively considered eligible for B-1 status per refnote. This cable reminds posts that the B-1 note regarding religious activities is still in effect and provides an alternative method for bona fide religious workers to come to the U.S.
2. In order to qualify for R status, the INA requires that the applicant demonstrate that he or she: "for the 2 years immediately preceding the time of application for admission, been a member of a religious denomination having a bona fide nonprofit, religious organization in the United States". VO notes that the INA does not define religious organization for this purpose, and an applicant may fulfill this requirement through membership in an "affiliated" organization. Given the wide varieties of religious belief in the U.S., and the constitutional protections given to religious practices, VO believes that posts should interpret this requirement flexibly. A person who has not been a member of a particular church or other religious organization but has been a member of another organization with a related set of doctrine or belief can be considered to have met the two year statutory requirement through membership in an affiliated organization.
3. In cases where the applicant is a recent member, and cannot demonstrate two-year membership in an affiliated organization, B-1 status remains an option where the applicant meets the requirements in 9 FAM 41.31 note 6.1. This is true even if the applicant who meets the qualifications in the note intends a stay of a year or more in the U.S. 9 FAM 41.31 note 2.4 provides that the fact that the period of stay in a given case may exceed six months or a year is not in itself controlling, provided the consular officer is satisfied that the intended stay actually has a time limitation and is not indefinite in nature. Posts are also reminded that many cases involving religious workers generate substantial public or congressional interest in the U.S. Therefore, it may be in the interest of posts to consider requesting advisory opinions, or sending information cables to the department in cases whenever there is a likelihood of refusals generating a response from the sponsoring religious institution.
4. Minimize considered.