The Religious Immigration Section of CLINIC, along with immigration practitioners around the country, breathed a sigh of relief on September 13, 2012,when the House of Representatives passed an extension of the Non-Minister Provision of the Special Immigrant Worker Program. Unless this extension passed, individuals pursuing religious vocations and religious occupations would no longer have been eligible to become legal permanent residents. This would have meant that nuns, brothers, seminarians, pastoral associates, religious teachers, missionaries, and those in formation would have been excluded from permanent residency.
The incredible service that is performed by these individuals often reaches those far outside the boundaries of the United States. By using the resources that only a country such as the United States has to offer, these “non-ministers” are able to spread their message of compassion and charity throughout the world.
For example, sisters of various religious communities are currently serving at the United Nations. While their ministry encompasses many areas, there is a primary focus on poverty, education, and bringing awareness to the global epidemic of human trafficking.
Through their advocacy for these less fortunate members of the population, these sisters are working each day to make a better future for those who would have otherwise gone unnoticed. By working to bring development and education to the impoverished, these sisters provide hope and respite for those who are suffering around the world. Often, these sisters have served in various countries, which makes them acutely aware of the needs of those who are in most desperate need of aid. They are able to take this knowledge of the practical needs and concerns of the women and children of the world and present this information to various committees of the United Nations. Their work creates a brighter future for those whose voices and concerns would otherwise go unheard.
I believe that this is a perfect illustration of why it is so critically important to not view visa categories simply as “numbers.” We must remember that there is often important work tied to a person’s desire to permanently reside in the United States. The work of these sisters would have been brought to a grinding halt without the extension of the non-minister provisions. If we limit their ability to remain inside the United States, then we limit our ability as a nation to understand the needs of those who suffer countless hardships, most of which we can hardly begin to comprehend.
If you would like to learn more about the work at the United Nations of the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary and the Medical Mission Sisters, please go to: http://www.mms-un.org/  and http://www.rshm.org/ministries/Working_for_Justice .
*Megan Sahar Turngren is an attorney with CLINIC's Center for Religious Immigration and Protection