Congress Shows Very Limited Interest in Non-Minister Alien Religious Workers

By David North on November 4, 2022

[Update, December 17, 2022: On December 16, the president signed a congressional continuing resolution (CR) to keep the government funded for another week; this extended the R-1 visa program for the same period. A longer extension is expected to be part of a long-term omnibus appropriations bill, which is expected to pass soon; that will keep the program going — among many other things — until September of next year.]

Most immigrant and nonimmigrant categories are covered by laws with no time limits; if you're eligible and apply this week or years earlier or later, you’re still eligible.

Some smaller sets of migrants are given eligibility only for specific periods of time; the eligibility of EB-5 (immigrant investors) ended on July 30, 2021, for example, and stayed dead for nearly a year before Congress revived it, as we reported earlier.

We now have the case of the special religious workers (i.e., non-ministers). The temporary provision for them lapsed on September 29 and has recently been revived by Congress, but only to December 15 of this year, according to the State Department’s November Visa Bulletin. The aliens covered by the law are (if briefly) covered by the fourth set of employment preferences and thus are EB-4's.

Using words that I have never seen before in the Visa Bulletin it says:

“H.R. 6833, enacted on September 30, 2022, extended the Employment Fourth Preference Certain Religious Workers (SR) category until December 16, 2022. No SR visas may be issued overseas, or final action taken on adjustment of status cases, after midnight December 15, 2022. Visas issued prior to that date will be valid only until December 15, 2022, and all individuals seeking admission in the non-minister special immigrant category must be admitted (repeat admitted) into the United States no later than midnight December 15, 2022.” [Emphasis added]

So if a church wants you to be their choir director, for example, you have to get your visa in a hurry from the heavily backlogged State Department, schedule a flight to the U.S. that lands before midnight on December 15, and hope that it lands on time. That’s not a very welcoming situation.

As we have noted earlier, this is not a visa that is often sought by entities in the mainline Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish organizations; they largely go to other, less-established religious operations. The most recent Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, for FY 2020, (Table 7) shows only 702 new green cards issued in this category; only 17 of them were for new arrivals, the balance were adjustments of status for aliens already in the U.S.

Why give this tiny category such a limited extension? Are there problems in this grouping? We will tell you when (and if) we find out.