Religious worker visa program extended


HIAS is praising Congress’ extension of the Religious Worker Visa Program through the end of September. The program provides up to 5,000 permanent immigrants visas for religious workers, and in particular is relied on by Jewish congregations in remote areas to bring rabbis, cantors and Hebrew school teachers. Here’s the full release:


HIAS, the international migration agency of the American Jewish community, applauds the passage of a bill last night 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.

“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 & 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.) and Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-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  Originally enacted with a sunset provision, it has enjoyed broad, bipartisan support in Congress and has been reauthorized five times since then.  Last night, the Senate passed an extension of the RWVP until September 30, 2009.  The House of Representatives had already approved an identical bill.  The extension of the RWVP will go into effect as soon as it is signed by the President.

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