HIAS Lauds Passage of Religious Worker Visa Program Extension

Posted on Mon, Sep 29, 2008 at 15:40 pm

(Washington, D.C.)– HIAS, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, applauds the passage of a bill this weekend extending the Religious Worker Visa Program (RWVP), portions of which were scheduled to expire on September 30. The RWVP is extended through March 6, 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.

“This is an important step in ensuring that the Jewish community can keep the dedicated and experienced teachers and other foreign religious workers that we rely on,” says Gideon Aronoff, president and CEO of HIAS. “HIAS has worked hard to ensure that this program remains open and available to the Jewish community, and is appreciative of the leadership shown by Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Ut.), Senator Edward Kennedy (D-Ma.), and Rep. Zoe Lofgren (R-Ca.) in making sure this program did not lapse.”

The Religious Worker Visa Program became law in 1990. Originally enacted with a sunset provision, it has enjoyed broad, bipartisan support in Congress and has been reauthorized four times since then. On Friday, the Senate passed an extension of the RWVP until March 6, 2009. The House of Representatives approved an identical bill on Saturday night. The extension of the RWVP will go into effect when the Administration finalizes the proposed regulations it issued in April 2007. According to the new law, the Administration is required to issue the final regulations by the end of October. In the meantime, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will hold all pending applications.