Chairman, Committee on Migration
National Conference of Catholic Bishops/U.S. Catholic Conference
The Religious Worker Visa Program
June 28, 2000
As Chairman of the U.S. Catholic Bishops' Committee on Migration, I urge the Members of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Claims to act expeditiously on a permanent extension of the Special Immigrant Non-Minister Religious Worker Visa Program, which is set to expire this fall.
The U.S. Catholic bishops support H.R. 1871, legislation sponsored by Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), which would permanently extend the special immigrant non-minister religious worker visa program. Using this important program, churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, and their religious organizations in our country can gain access to a small but critical number of religious workers from abroad who in turn assist them in their mission of providing pastoral and social services to U.S. citizens and residents throughout the nation. These religious workers play a critical role in enriching the spiritual lives of Americans of faith and provide needed services working with our youth, families in crisis and those in need.
In 1990, Congress recognized the special needs of religious denominations and their organizations when it created the special immigrant nonminister religious worker visa program. In the case of the Catholic Church, this program permits a religious brother, sister, catechist, pastoral service worker, and others to enter the United States to work in positions which specifically relate to their religious vocation or occupation.
The Catholic Church in the United States has utilized this program to respond to the increasing diversity of our country and membership, which includes people from countries throughout the world. Religious workers from abroad assist the Church here in a variety of ways. They come as religious brothers counseling members of ethnic communities, religious sisters providing social services and care to the poor and ill, and lay persons assisting with religious education. While supporting the Church in her spiritual mission, these workers also mend the spirit of those in need in our local communities by working in schools, hospitals, homes for the aged, and homeless shelters.
Without the benefit of this provision of law, the Church, along with other religious organizations throughout the country, would be unable to bring in religious workers within a time frame that corresponds to the actual need for their services. We believe that a permanent extension enacted now would provide stability and allow religious groups to plan for the future and prevent the disruptions and uncertainty that pending terminations of this program have caused in the past.
To fail to grant a permanent extension of this program in a timely fashion would be a disservice not only to religious organizations, but to local communities and those in distress who depend on religious workers from abroad to meet their special needs. We strongly support H.R. 1871. We urge Congress to pass expeditiously this legislation on behalf of the religious community and citizens around the country who gain because of its existence.