WASHINGTON, D.C. — Thursday, Sens. Orrin Hatch and Ben Cardin introduced Senate Bill 1339 proposing 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.
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. 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.
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, according to a release by the offices of Sen. Hatch.
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 nonminister 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 many other religious groups and organizations. A letter of support from these organizations can be found here.
“Religious workers play a critical role in everything from uplifting the most vulnerable among us to helping our first responders after natural disasters,” Cardin said. “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.”