HIAS Lauds Passage of Religious Worker Visa Program Extension: Measure will allow Jewish community to hire and retain critical foreign religious workers

Posted on Wed, Oct 21, 2009 at 14:04 pm

(Washington, D.C) – HIAS, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, applauds the passage of a bill yesterday extending the Religious Worker Visa Program (RWVP), portions of which were scheduled to expire at the end of this month. The RWVP is extended through September 30, 2012.

“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 diligently 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.) and Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Ca.) in making sure this program did not lapse.”

Under this 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. 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 Originally enacted with a sunset provision, it has enjoyed broad, bipartisan support in Congress and has been reauthorized six times.

The extension of the RWVP was included in the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Conference Report, which the House passed last week. The Senate approved the bill yesterday, and President Obama is expected to sign the bill into law. The bill also includes a provision to end the “widow penalty,” so recently married immigrants whose citizen spouses die before their green-card paperwork is processed will no longer be subject to automatic deportation.