Sept. 14, 2012 NEWS RELEASE — Religious Worker Visa Program Wins Renewal in House in Victory for Faith Communities

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

WASHINGTON, D.C.  Sept. 14, 2012 – Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) applauds the U.S. House of Representatives for passing S. 3245, a bill that includes a three-year renewal of the Religious Worker Visa Program.

“We thank the House for following the Senate’s lead to renew for three years the Religious Worker Visa Program, which boosts Lutheran churches’ ability to reach migrants and refugees by fulfilling unique staffing needs for language skills and cultural competency,” said LIRS President and CEO Linda Hartke.

“In the absence of a permanent reauthorization of the Special Immigrant Non-Minister Religious Worker program, we applaud this three-year extension to ensure that churches and religious organizations can continue to access this important program,” 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. The measure passed by a 412-3 vote on September 13 and will now go to President Obama for his signature. 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 Originally enacted with a sunset provision in 1990, it has enjoyed broad, bipartisan support in Congress and has been reauthorized six times since then.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 signed a letter to members of Congress urging a permanent renewal of the program.

“As a church body which resettles refugees, maintains direct services to vulnerable immigrant populations and starts and supports religious ministries of immigrants and refugees, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America depends on religious workers who are themselves immigrants and refugees,” said Rev. Stephen Bouman, ELCA Executive Director of Congregational and Synodical Mission.

“We applaud the extension of the Religious Worker Visa Program, by which many capable and uniquely qualified leaders are able to develop new communities of faith in the United States,” said Rev. Ruben Duran, ELCA Director for New Congregations.

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.

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.