US Judge Strikes Down Policy On Religious Visas

March 24, 2009

Author: Gene Johnson

Source: The Associated Press

A federal judge has struck down a long-standing government policy that made it tougher for religious workers from other countries to remain in the United States.

Chief U.S. District Judge Robert Lasnik wrote in an order issued Tuesday that the policy was at odds with the intent of Congress.

Under the Department of Homeland Security's policy, religious workers who came to the U.S. on a typical five-year temporary visa were not allowed to file for permanent residency — their green card — until a separate visa petition by their employer had been approved.

The problem was that it frequently took a long time for the government to approve those visa petitions — and by the time it did, the religious workers had left the country because their temporary visas had expired.

"They had to return home, leaving behind their religious work and congregations," said Seattle attorney Robert Gibbs, who represents the workers in the class-action case.

Workers in other categories, such as aerospace and technology, are allowed to file for permanent residency before, not after, their employer's visa petition is approved, and can remain in the country while their application is pending. That amounted to discrimination against religious workers, Gibbs argued.