Bill would make it easier for religious workers to gain visas

A bill introduced by Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) would make permanent the temporary visa program for religious workers. 

The special immigrant provision, set to expire in September 2015, is available for non-minister religious workers such as translators or cantors. Up to 5,000 of these visas can be issued each year.  

A separate program exists to provide temporary visas for individuals who conduct religious services, including preachers or ministers. There is no cap on the number of temporary visas for immigrant ministers. 

Honda said the legislation, which was filed just before the congressional recess, would eliminate the need to regularly reauthorize the program.

“It’s time we do what’s right for our communities of faith and make permanent this program that allows workers who lead worship, officiate events, and offer pastoral care, to receive temporary visas like ministers and faith leaders do,” Honda said.

Supporters of the bill include the United Conference of Catholic Bishops, American Jewish Community, Hindu American Foundation and the Council of American-Islamic Relations.

This provision of immigration law has tended to be less controversial than other aspects that some lawmakers say merit an overhaul. The last authorization of the non-minister religious workers program passed the Senate by unanimous consent and the House 412-3 in 2012.