WASHINGTON (September 12, 1997) -- A visa program which allows foreign religious pastoral workers to enter the United States should be extended permanently, according to Cardinal Adam Maida, who today testified before the Senate Immigration Subcommittee.
"Should the program be permitted to expire at the end of this current fiscal year, as is provided for under current law, the impact would be far reaching," Cardinal Maida told the members of the subcommittee. "Not only would religious organizations and denominations lose access to the much needed contributions of these 'non-minister' religious workers, but so too would the many communities in which these individuals work."
The current law which allows for religious sisters, brothers, catechists, and other non-ordained religious workers to enter the United States is set to expire on September 30. Senator Spencer Abraham (R-MI), chairman of the Senate Immigration Subcommittee, will soon introduce legislation to extend the provision permanently.
In his opening statement, Senator Abraham quoted from a July 20 letter sent to him by Mother Teresa, in which she asked him to "do all that you can to have that law extended so that all religious will continue to have the opportunity to be permanent residents [in the United States] and serve the people of your great country. ... Let us all thank God for this chance to serve His poor."
Cardinal Maida said the permanent extension of the visa program "would provide the stability that religious organizations need and prevent the disruptions and uncertainty that impending terminations of this program have caused in this and previous years."
Of the 5,000 "non-minister" religious worker visas allowed each year, approximately 1,000 to 1,200 are requested by those coming to assist with work carried out by the Catholic Church. In addition to Cardinal Maida's testimony, Senator Abraham also received a letter from Bishop John S. Cummins of Oakland (CA), who chairs the U.S. Catholic Conference's Migration Committee. He said that religious workers provide an important pastoral function in the communities where they work and live "unique from those found in the general labor market," noting especially their work in hospitals, orphanages, senior care homes, and other charitable institutions.
"The steady decline in native-born Americans entering religious vocations and occupations, coupled with the dramatically increasing need for charitable services in impoverished communities makes the extension of this special immigrant provision a necessity for numerous religious denominations in the United States," Bishop Cummins said in his September 11 letter.