The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA)- Is it Relevant to Immigration Law?

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What is the RFRA?

RFRA prohibits the federal government from substantially burdening religion unless there is a compelling government interest in doing so, and the government uses the least restrictive means available to do so. RFRA applies to all federal government agencies, including the Departments of Homeland Security, Justice, State and Labor, which may all contribute to immigration decisions.


How Is RFRA relevant to Immigration Law?

If there is a visa denial at a U.S. consulate, a denial of a change of visa status by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), a denial of a labor certification by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) that impacts the religious exercise of a person or an organization, the affected persons may sue for appropriate relief in federal court. If a substantial burden on religious exercise is shown by a complainant, then the burden shifts to the government to show that its actions were required to serve a compelling governmental interest.


How might RFRA be used in immigration cases?

A denial of an I-360 petition or an R-1 visa for a minister or religious worker might be challenged not only under the immigration law but also under RFRA. The USCIS rule that religious workers are barred from filing for adjustment of status before an I-360 petition is approved has been challenged in an ongoing case, Ruiz-Diaz, in the district court in Seattle. Other actions have been challenged, such as the H-1B cap as applied to specialty occupation religious workers, denials of changes of nonimmigrant status, and the like.

Additional Resources

42 U.S.C. Section 2000bb-1 et seq.

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