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Booming Churches, Barred Pastors: How U.S. Visa Policies Thwart Hiring Ministers
Tan Wei Ming / iStock

Immigration officials balked at renewing the religious worker visa for Daniel Carrillo. They doubted that his sponsoring church had sufficient funds to pay him.

In 2011, the Toronto native moved to San Antonio to help plant a church for the Spanish-speaking Nazarene congregation he had pastored for six years in Kentucky. After serving the new English-speaking congregation for two months, Carillo learned that immigration officials had refused to renew his R-1 (religious worker) visa for another 30 months. They told him he must leave the country within 15 days.

With the help of World Relief immigration attorney Kedri Metzger, Carrillo successfully reapplied for an R-1 visa and moved back to San Antonio in October 2012 with his Honduran-born wife, Carolina, and their 7-year-old son, Joshua. This time, Carillo's visa affirms that he will be paid from the deeper pockets of the Nazarene district, rather than New Vision Community Church, the newly planted San Antonio congregation.

"We were doing everything to the letter of the law," says Carrillo, 34. "We want to make sure churches understand there are a lot of ministers brought in from the outside who are in the same predicament as us, sacrificing so much to work for the Lord."

Whatever happens in Congress with immigration reform this year, it won't solve the problems religious workers face in getting R-1 visas. Immigrant pastors and other church workers often are caught in a byzantine system that is inhospitable to evangelicals, even when they have complied with the necessary regulations. Ensuring that a religious worker has enough pay is just one of many issues that can trip up an immigrant who wants to pastor a church.

Meanwhile, the ...

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