Foreign-born priests facing immigration challenges too

The Sacramento Bee has an interesting story today about something many parishioners have noticed for a while: foreign-born U.S. priests. It seems they, just like other immigrants, are facing challenges with our immigration system.

Foreign-born priests have long filled U.S. pulpits and parishes. But recent changes in requirements for religious visas are making that harder to do, say some church leaders. Now, citing increased costs and difficulty obtaining visas, some will no longer actively recruit clerics from other countries.

Bishop Jaime Soto, the spiritual leader of the Sacramento region's 900,000 Catholics, said last week that he has stopped a long-standing diocesan practice of seeking priests outside the United States.

"It's alarming how difficult it is for us to bring over priests who are willing to serve here," said Soto. "The current immigration protocol handicaps our ability to find ministers."

"There is a general frustration among the bishops about how difficult the immigration process has become," he said. "As bishops we have to weigh the need for clergy against the increasing costs and difficulties of bringing them in."

Out of 168 priests serving in active ministry in the Sacramento Diocese, 90 were born in other countries. (Ireland tops the list with 20.) Soto said he will consider any foreign priest who applies but will no longer recruit.

According to the U.S. bishops' conference, in 2000 over 4,300 priests (or 16% of 27,000 priests active in parish ministry) have come from other countries. This figure includes those who were born in countries outside of the U.S. but educated here, as well as those who were ordained in other countries and came here following ordination. The largest national representations in this group are as follows: Ireland, India, the Philippines, Poland, Vietnam, Mexico, Colombia, and Nigeria.

A short time ago I wrote a story about a current effort to recruit candidates to the priesthood here in the U.S.

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