WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Religious workers from abroad may find it easier stay in the United States, after a federal judge struck down a government policy that required an application process that frequently left the workers without legal immigration status.
U.S. District Judge Robert Lasnik of Seattle March 24 ordered a reversal of a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service policy that refused to allow religious workers to file for permanent residency until separate visa applications by employers had been approved.
Delays in processing the employers' visa applications have frequently meant that religious workers run out of time on their temporary visas and have had to leave the country before their petitions to stay permanently can be filed.
Applicants for permanent residency with work visas in other categories, such as aerospace or high technology, are permitted to file for permanent residency before the employment visa is approved. They also are allowed to remain in the United States while the applications are pending.
Anne Marie Gibbons, director for religious immigration and protection for the Catholic Legal Immigration Network Inc., known as CLINIC, told Catholic News Service that Lasnik's ruling may not be the final word, because the Department of Homeland Security could file an appeal.
Lasnik gave the Department of Homeland Security and attorneys for the religious workers 20 days to try to work out a policy that is consistent with his order, The Associated Press reported.
Gibbons said she was hopeful the Seattle ruling could clear the way for about 300 religious workers whose visa cases CLINIC handles to apply for residency without the burdensome process they have had to use.
Many dioceses and religious orders apply on their own for their foreign-born employees and also would be covered by a change in the policy, she said.