This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
At the prompting of one of his most-influential constituents the LDS Church Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch introduced a bill Thursday that would streamline the visa process for missionaries and religious workers coming to this country from abroad.
In recent years, it has taken up to nine months or more for foreign religious workers to secure a U.S. visa.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) requires religious organizations to submit extensive documentation of their organizational structure, financial status and missionary program as well as information about each individual applicant.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with 75,000 full-time missionaries, including about 1,000 foreign-born proselytizers who enter the U.S. every year has a well-established structure and identical documentation submitted in every case, but different immigration officials have varying questions.
"The problem has existed for several years," church spokesman Eric Hawkins said. "Senator Hatch's office has been helpful to a number of organizations in Utah, including the church, who have challenges with religious-worker visas."
Hatch's bill, the Religious Worker Visa Improvement Act, would trim visa-processing times by allowing eligible religious organizations to offer a "blanket petition process," his office said in a release. "Missionaries covered by the blanket petition would be able to get their visas in just a few weeks
Mormon missionaries are not the only ones who would benefit from this legislation. It would apply to all religious organizations that have:
• An established program for temporary, volunteer workers from outside the U.S.
• Missionary work as an element of the group's religious development.
• A financial support system that assures said foreign workers would not become public charges.
• Passed a fraud-prevention inspection.
• Already received at least 1,000 temporary immigrant religious-worker applications.
"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," said Hatch, a Mormon. "My bill will shorten the visa-processing time for long-standing and reputable religious organizations while preserving existing anti-fraud and security protections."
The bill is "a win-win for everyone involved," Utah's senior senator said. "USCIS can dedicate its limited resources to other pressing matters while missionaries in established programs can travel to their missions without lengthy delays."
Hawkins said the church is "grateful" for Hatch's work on the issue.
"This will help alleviate concern about the significant delays caused by the current .... visa process, and would also provide some helpful predictability in the timing of a missionary's arrival."