May 14, 2015

Cardin, Hatch Introduce Bill to Make Religious Worker Visa Program Permanent

WASHINGTON - U.S. Senators Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), today introduced S. 1339 to make the Special Immigrant Non-Minister Religious Worker Program permanent. The program allows religious organizations in the United States to fill critical religious worker positions, for which there are no qualified candidates in the United States, with candidates from abroad.

“Religious workers play a critical role in everything from uplifting the most vulnerable among us to helping our first responders after natural disasters,” said Senator Cardin. “Though they may hold vastly different religious beliefs, the organizations that will use the Non-Minister Religious Worker Visa Program are committed to building a stronger America through public service. I am pleased to join with Senator Hatch in introducing this legislation. I appreciate the political and religious diversity of the Senators supporting this important piece of legislation.”

“In my home state of Utah and throughout the country, guest religious workers are critical for carrying out many vital compassionate service functions performed by our religious institutions,” Senator Hatch said. “Whether caring for the sick, working in trauma centers, or assisting in church youth centers, religious workers from abroad play an important role in our communities and we rely on their services. The Non-Minister Religious Worker Visa Program allows our country's religious denominations to continue in their call to serve and provide support to those in the greatest need. I am pleased Senator Cardin has joined with me in introducing this important legislation and I look forward to working with him and other colleagues to see this important provision enacted.”

Background

The Special Immigrant Non-Minister Religious Worker Visa Program is a subset of the larger religious worker visa program under Section 101(a)(27)(C) of the Immigration and Nationality Act. The purpose of the Non-Minister Religious Worker Visa Program is to allow religious denominations or organizations to sponsor non-minister religious workers from abroad to perform service here in the United States in a religious vocation or occupation. 

 The program provides for up to 5,000 Special Immigrant visas per year that religious organizations can use to sponsor foreign nationals to perform religious service in the United States.   

Since its enactment in 1990, the Special Immigrant Non-Minister Religious Worker Visa Program has been extended six times, most recently in 2012. The year-to-year uncertainty about whether the program will continue has created difficulties for religious organizations, many of whom depend on visa recipients to carry out critical functions. This uncertainty has in turn caused local communities to worry about losing vital services that religious organizations provide.  

 A permanent legislative extension would provide a measure of stability that would allow religious organizations to plan more effectively for their future service to their communities. With the rapid decrease in the number of Americans turning to religious vocations, religious organizations are experiencing an acute shortage of non-minister religious workers in the United States.

The program enjoys widespread support among religious organizations, including The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Catholic Church as lead supporters, as well as Agudath Israel of America, the American Jewish Committee, the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc., the Church of Scientology National Public Affairs Office, the Conference of Major Superiors of Men, the First Church of Christ, Scientist, HIAS, the Hindu American Foundation, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the Jubilee Campaign USA, the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, the National Association of Evangelicals, the Rabbinical Assembly, the Jewish Federations of North America, UJA-New York Federation, the Union for Reform Judaism, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and World Relief.