Release: Hatch introduces bill to streamline visa processing for missionaries

U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch, R-UT, the longest-serving member and former Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, introduced legislation to streamline religious worker visa processing for missionaries in established international missionary programs.

Under 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.

Due to the high volume of petitions filed, it can take up to nine months for USCIS to process individual petitions for volunteer missionaries. Add in time for petition preparation and consular visa processing, and missionaries today face long delays in starting their service—typically nine to eleven months.

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.

“Missionary service is the lifeblood for many churches across the nation, yet long and unpredictable visa delays are taking a toll on those who have answered the call to serve,” Senator Hatch said. “My bill will shorten the visa processing time for longstanding and reputable religious organizations while preserving existing anti-fraud and security protections. It’s a win-win for everyone involved: USCIS can dedicate its limited resources to other pressing matters while missionaries in established programs can travel to their missions without lengthy delays.”

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.

For additional information on the bill, click [here]. For a copy of the bill, click [here].