August 9, 2012 NEWS RELEASE — Religious Worker Visa Program Wins Renewal in Senate; Time for House to Act

Press Contact: Jon Pattee
202-591-5778, jpattee@lirs.org

WASHINGTON, D.C. Aug. 9, 2012 – Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) applauds the U.S. Senate for passing a bill that includes a three-year renewal of the Religious Worker Visa Program.

“The Religious Worker Visa Program took an important step forward with the Senate’s three-year renewal, and we urge the House of Representatives to follow suit,” said Linda Hartke, LIRS President and CEO.

“The Religious Worker Visa Program is of huge benefit to Lutheran churches, which tap these workers’ language skills, cultural competency, and other abilities to meet unique staffing needs in areas such as community outreach and social services provision,” said Hartke.

The Special Immigrant Non-Minister part of the Religious Worker Visa Program was included in S. 3245, a bill the Senate passed August 2, that contained a three-year reauthorization for several immigration programs. Under S. 3245, up to 5,000 visas per year are available to religious workers employed by diverse religious denominations and groups. The participating organizations call these visas vital to their work.

Slated to expire in September 2012, the program would run until September 2015 under the Senate legislation. Originally enacted with a sunset provision in 1990, it has enjoyed broad, bipartisan support in Congress and has been reauthorized six times since then.

Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service was one of 20 faith-based organizations, including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society and the National Association of Evangelicals, that in March signed a letter to members of Congress urging the renewal of the program.

“The Religious Worker Visa Program extension’s importance far outweighs that of the worker; it is the communities which will maximize its benefits,” said Rev. John Loum, Director of the Ethnic Immigrant Institute of Theology at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis.

“These workers are of great importance, bringing religious, social, and economic stability to their respective communities,” said Rev. Loum, whose seminary provides theological education for pastors, missionaries, and leaders in the name of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.

Lutheran churches in the United States use religious workers in many ministries. In a faith becoming increasingly diverse, many Lutheran religious workers serve at the synod or district level in outreach positions. Many others help develop new congregations or programs, serving diverse communities, while others work within churches to ensure worship is accessible to all. One example is religious workers serving as music directors, helping churches offer meaningful and language-appropriate music ministry.

“We must have people who can speak the language to be the shepherds for the sheep,” said Loum.

LIRS is nationally recognized for its leadership advocating on behalf of refugees, asylum seekers, unaccompanied children, immigrants in detention, families fractured by migration and other vulnerable populations, and for providing services to migrants through over 60 grassroots legal and social service partners across the United States.