A Broken Supply Chain
A troubling national trend is the gradual loss of “international” priests and religious. “International” is the designation given in the United States to pastoral ministers who come from places like India, Nigeria, Colombia, and Brazil to bolster the pastoral workforce in this country. Priests and religious are permitted by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to enter the country and serve in ministry for a determined period of time. As a Church, we’ve come to depend on a steady stream of dedicated religious workers to staff parishes, serve as chaplains in hospitals and prisons, and even manage our diocesan chanceries and tribunals.
The issue is not that the supply of international church personnel is dwindling. Rather, much like the breakdown in the consumer-goods supply chain that has spurred inflation, a major slowdown has clogged the US immigration system. The backlog is at the USCIS, the organization that administers the country’s naturalization and immigration system. There are delays in the processing of all visas, including those for religious workers. The COVID-19 pandemic has been cited as the culprit, along with staffing shortages and stricter guidelines. The usual wait of six to nine months for an expedited visa is now two or even three times longer.
The result is that priests and religious with expiring visas, concerned about being out of status or “undocumented,” have had to leave their ministries behind and return to their home countries. Then they wait until their visas are reviewed and renewed. Until that time, they can’t legally return to the US and to their ministries.
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