HIAS Applauds Extension of Two Laws that Aid Jewish Community: "Lautenberg Amendment" and Religious Worker Visa Program

Posted on Thu, Mar 12, 2009 at 15:14 pm

(New York, NY)– HIAS, the international migration agency of the American Jewish community, applauds the extension of two pieces of legislation this week that positively impact the Jewish community in this country.

With his signing into law of the omnibus spending bill on Wednesday, the President extended the “Lautenberg Amendment,” the provision of law that facilitates the processing of refugee applications for Jews, Evangelicals, Christians, and several other categories of individuals from the Former Soviet Union, in addition to Jews, Baha’is, and other religious minorities seeking to flee Iran.

The amendment recognizes the longstanding history of persecution faced by these groups, and clarifies the refugee adjudication standard to be applied to group members. It was initially enacted in 1989 and has been renewed annually since that date. The latest extension is valid through September 30, 2009.

As part of its work, HIAS tracks, monitors, and documents targeted persecution against religious minorities in the former Soviet Union and Iran. Those individuals from these regions who achieve U.S. refugee status remain part of HIAS’ ongoing caseload.

In addition, last night Congress passed extending the Religious Worker Visa Program (RWVP), portions of which expired on March 6. The RWVP is extended through September 30, 2009, when several other immigration provisions also will be considered for a longer extension.

Under this important program, up to 5,000 permanent immigrant visas are available each year for religious workers employed by a broad range of religious denominations and organizations. Religious communities that participate in the program have found these special visas vital to carrying out their work. Jewish congregations, particularly in remote areas with small Jewish communities, rely on rabbis, cantors, kosher butchers, Hebrew school teachers, and other religious workers who come from abroad through the religious worker program. Without them, many Jewish communities would find it more difficult to sustain the institutions and practices essential to Jewish religious and communal life.

According to Gideon Aronoff, President & CEO of HIAS, “The continuation of the Lautenberg Amendment is important because the situation in the republics of the former Soviet Union is more volatile than most of us realize, and few would argue how dangerous Iran is. Extension of the RWVP is critical in ensuring that the Jewish community can keep the dedicated and experienced teachers and other foreign religious workers that we rely on. HIAS has worked hard to ensure that both of these programs remain open and available to the Jewish community.

“HIAS thanks Congress, and Senator Lautenberg in particular, for their commitment to ensuring that members of historically persecuted groups continue to be resettled to freedom in the U.S. We are likewise appreciative of the leadership shown by Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Ut.) and Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Ca.) in making sure the RWVP program continues.”