U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch, R-UT, introduced legislation Wednesday, March 30, that would streamline religious worker visa processing for missionaries in established international missionary programs.
Hatch’s bill, the Religious Worker Visa Improvement Act, would reduce visa processing times by allowing eligible religious organizations to participate in a streamlined blanket petition procedure. Missionaries covered by the blanket petition would be able to get their visas in just a few weeks.
Hatch’s legislation would allow religious organizations with longstanding missionary programs to participate in a streamlined blanket petition procedure if:
- The organization’s missionary service locations have passed a fraud prevention site inspection.
- The organization has an established program for temporary, uncompensated missionary work in the United States that is part of a broader international program of missionary work.
- Participation in missionary work is an established element of religious development in the organization’s religious denomination, and the organization provides formal training for its missionaries incidental to their service.
- The organization has received USCIS approval for at least 1,000 standalone R-1 petitions.
- The organization has in place a financial support system that reasonably assures its missionaries will not become public charges during their missionary service.
According to a press release from Sen. Hatch’s office, under current federal law, religious organizations seeking to bring missionaries to the United States must obtain a religious worker visa for each missionary. Because of regulations promulgated by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in 2008, such organizations must submit extensive documentation to USCIS about their organizational structure, financial status, and missionary program with each individual application. Even organizations with long-established missionary programs must submit the same lengthy paperwork over and over again.