CONGRESSWOMAN ELISE STEFANIK
On March 4, 2009, H.R. 1127 is being considered on the floor under suspension of the rules, requiring a two-thirds majority vote for passage. This legislation was introduced by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) on February 23, 2009. The bill was referred to the Committee on Judiciary, which has taken no official action.
H.R. 1127 would extend the Special Immigrant Non-Minister Religious Worker Program through September 30, 2009. The program allows religious institutions to sponsor religious worker visas (R-1 visas) for religious workers, such as nuns, monks, liturgical workers, and religious instructors. This religious worker visa program was created under the under the Immigration Act of 1990 (P.L. 101-649), and is currently set to expire on March 6, 2009.
The bill would also extend the Conrad 30 J Waiver Program through September 30, 2009. The waiver program allows foreign doctors that trained in the United States under a J-1 visa to work in the United States in medically underserved areas without first returning to their home country. The waiver must be applied for by either interested government agencies or by a state health department. This waiver authority is also set to expire on March 6, 2009.
Religious Worker Visas
The Immigration Act of 1990 (P.L. 101-649) lists requirements and criteria which an immigrant must satisfy in order to qualify for a religious worker visa. The requirements stipulate that the immigrant must be a member of a religious denomination that has a non-profit religious organization in the U.S. and is seeking to serve the religious organization in a ministerial, professional, or other vocation-related occupational capacity.
Similar legislation extending the physicians visa waiver for five years (H.R. 5570) was passed in the 100th Congress by voice vote but was not considered by the Senate.
Physician Visa Waiver
According to the Congressional Research Service, there are a significant number of physicians practicing in the United States that are foreign nationals who received medical training in the U.S. under the J-1 visa. The J-1 visa allows foreigners to train in the U.S., but, afterwards, they are required to return to their home countries for a minimum of two years before applying to return to the U.S.
Interested government agencies, like the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Health and Human Services, can apply to have this return requirement waived for doctors who would work in medically underserved areas. Since 1994, State governments have also been permitted to apply for waivers. The waiver allows the doctors to work as nonimmigrants with H-1B status. Waiver recipients are not counted against the annual cap on H-1B visas.