A bill co-sponsored by Senator Charles Schumer that extends the life of the Non-Minister Religious Worker Visa Program (RWVP) and thus allows religious organizations in the United States to continue to sponsor non-minister religious workers from abroad passed Congress late last week. The bill is expected to be signed by President Obama in the coming days. The program will help religious organizations across the nation sponsor rabbis, cantors, religious school teachers, kosher butchers, and many other religious workers. These programs were created by the Immigration Act of 1990 and the recent legislation would extend the program for three years through September 30, 2015. Without this action, the program would have expired at the end of September, crippling religious organizations across New York and the country. Schumer was a key co-sponsor of the legislation and helped lead the charge to see that it was renewed rather than allowed to expire.
“Organizations of faith are the backbones of our communities, and the extension of this visa program will allow them to continue to play their critical role. Congregations need rabbis, cantors and Hebrew school teachers, and this legislation will help them better fulfill their vital missions,” said Schumer. “To have allowed this program to expire would go against everything we stand for and believe in as a country.”
“The Orthodox Union supports the Non-Minister Religious Worker Visa Program. It is an important program for filling the staffing needs in small Jewish communities for religious functionaries, including shochtim, which are not easily available otherwise in the United States. We commend Senator Schumer for his efforts in this matter,” said Dr. Simcha Katz, President of the OU, and Rabbi Menachem Genack, CEO of OU Kosher.
The Non-Minister Religious Worker Visa Program will allow religious organizations across the country to sponsor non-minister religious workers from abroad. The program provides for a fixed number of Special Immigrant visas per year which religious organizations can use to sponsor foreign nationals to perform religious service in the United States. Once granted, this type of visa allows religious workers to immigrate permanently to the United States and eventually become U.S. citizens.
This program was set to expire on September 30, 2012 and was finally passed by the Senate on August 2. The House of Representatives passed the bill on September 12.
Schumer pointed to remote areas with small Jewish communities who rely on rabbis, cantors, kosher butchers, Hebrew school teachers and other foreign workers. Schumer explained that without these workers, communities would find it more difficult to sustain the institutions and practices essential to Jewish religious and communal life.