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Worker Visa Policies Not An Issue of Religious Freedom, Court Rules

Ruling upholds regulations that give application preference to workers with employment-based visas.

The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled against 16 immigrants who claimed that religious-worker visa rules violated their religious freedoms.

The court rejected a challenge to immigration policies that require religious workers to follow a different process from those with employment-based visas when applying to become legal permanent residents (LPR). The ruling upheld a 2011 decision in the case.

The policies prevent religious workers from applying for LPR status until U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (CIS) approves an employer's petition on a worker's behalf. In contrast, workers with employment-based visas may apply concurrently with an employer's petition.

The immigrant plaintiffs in the case, who had all been approved for temporary residency on five-year religious worker visas, argued that the policies increase the waiting period for religious workers and can result in unjust deportation. They also alleged that the policies violate workers' rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).

However, the court ruled in favor of the government, stating, "They are subject to removal after five years because their visas have expired, not because they are practicing their religion.... Accordingly, the regulation does not impose a substantial burden on plaintiffs' religious exercise and therefore does not violate RFRA."

CT has previously reported on fraud within the religious worker visa program, as well as on customs confusion for those traveling with religious worker visas.

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