Two U.S. immigration amendments extended

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Congress has extended two immigration-related laws that impact the Jewish community.

On Wednesday evening, the Senate passed an extension through Sept. 30 of the Religious Worker Visa Program, portions of which had expired on March 6. The program makes as many as 5,000 permanent immigrant visas available each year for religious workers employed by various denominations, and is particularly helpful to small Jewish communities in remote areas who have difficulty hiring rabbis, cantors and Hebrew school teachers.

The House has already passed an identical bill and the extension will go into effect once it is signed by the president.

"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,” said Gideon Aronoff, President and CEO of HIAS, in a statement.

HIAS also praised the extension of the Lautenberg Amendment, which President Obama signed into law Wednesday as part of the 2009 omnibus appropriations bill. That legislation facilitates the processing of refugee applications for Jews, evangelicals, other Christian groups and several other categories of individuals from the former Soviet Union. The amendment also applies to refugees fleeing Iran because of religious persecution. The amendment, first enacted in 1989, will be extended through Sep. 30.

"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," said Aronoff. "This provision of the law recognizes that certain religious minorities living in these two regions are living in endangered circumstances and need an avenue out."

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