WASHINGTON, D.C. – The immigration of foreign-born priests, sisters and other religious workers has become critically important to the Catholic Church in the United States. With large numbers of immigrants from diverse locations across the globe and with shortages of priests and religious to serve the Catholic population here, the Church has particular interest in how the government issues visas for such foreign-born priests, religious and lay religious workers.
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) recently issued new regulations that change the way applications and petitions are filed for foreign-born religious workers. The new regulations call for major changes in the way foreign-born religious workers apply for visas to enter the United States, impose new requirements on dioceses and religious organizations that bring in foreign-born religious workers, and make changes to the eligibility criteria for immigrant and non-immigrant religious worker visas, by redefining the terms religious vocation and religious occupation.
“These changes are significant and require a new level of awareness by dioceses and religious communities that want to bring in religious workers. They also impact the types of religious workers that are allowed into the country,” said Anne Marie Gibbons, director of CLINIC’s Center for Religious Immigration and Protection. The Center has a dedicated staff of seven attorneys who specialize in immigration law relating to religious workers. They represent dioceses and religious orders across the country and are considered a leader in religious immigration law and training.
Religious communities and dioceses are encouraged to seek professional legal advice as the new regulations significantly change the visa application and status authorization processes for religious workers. For example, as a result of the new rules, an additional step in the religious worker non-immigrant visa process now exists. Employers of religious workers must now file and receive an approval of a petition for non-immigrant status before their foreign-born worker can apply for a non-immigrant visa abroad.
The new regulations also impose new requirements on dioceses and sponsoring religious communities to provide extensive documentation before a worker can be approved for a visa or a green card. These new requirements will increase delay in application processing times; dioceses and religious communities are advised to plan ahead.
The new rules also shorten the initial period of time that a religious worker may stay in the country from three years to 30 months. They provide for an extension of 30 months.
“It is very important that dioceses and religious communities are aware of the requirements of the new regulations to ensure that their workers remain in status,” explained Gibbons.
CLINIC is available to advise dioceses and religious communities in these matters and plans to conduct trainings on the new regulations and religious immigration law. To learn more about CLINIC’s involvement in these types of visas and about training opportunities, please contact Tamika Johnson at 202-756-5536.