Sunday, March 4, 2007

Priests, nuns, missionaries experiencing unusual visa delays


Religious groups and immigration lawyers are expressing alarm at the long delays that priests, nuns, missionaries and other religious workers now encounter when applying for visas.

The two categories of visas that make up about 90 percent of the religious work permits in the United States “seem to have come to a grinding halt,” said Crystal Williams, deputy director of programs at the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

Williams said that the delays are “across the board” and affect thousands of people waiting to work for a variety of religious groups, including Catholics, Jews, Lutherans, Evangelical churches, Mormons and Muslims.

Dan Kane, a spokesman for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, said the delays are due to tightened security measures and a re-organization that funnels all religious worker visa applications through one regional service center in California. Most of the visas now require a site inspection of the sponsoring institution, he said.

“The issue is more the integrity of the application process,” Kane added. By reducing fraud and assessing the legitimacy of the applicant, the process will become more efficient, he said.

The Bush administration has been accused of being too lax with religious visas and giving them to Muslim clerics from other countries without enough vetting.

Perron also said that an application last year for an 86-year-old Catholic nun from Nicaragua to change status from tourist to permanent residence was picked for a “detailed review.”

“I just can’t imagine why the case of an 86-year-old little nun in Wisconsin is undergoing review,” she said. The application has been pending for 9 months, Perron said. [...snip Providence R.I. Journal

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