Immigration eases visa for priests

Community organisations and religious entities employing priests to provide specialised services can heave a sigh of relief with Immigration New Zealand taking a more sympathetic view of their needs.

A new regime governing religious workers will come into force on November 1, following which, those eligible can apply for a residence visa.

Gurdwaras, Temples, Churches and Mosques serving respectively the Sikh, Hindu, Christian and Muslim communities have since long been petitioning the Government to relax the stringent conditions imposed for issue of work permits for foreign workers.

“Priests and others rendering religious services should be categorised separately since they render specialised services. They should be exempt from English language and formal education requirements, since they are needed purely for conducting regular prayers, marriages and other events,” they said.

Immigration Minister Dr Jonathan Coleman announced a new policy last fortnight providing a revised process to regularise the stay of religious workers and provide for their permanent residence.

The policy also takes into account the need for continuity in places of workshops, facilitating priests to obtain short-term visas.

“This new policy provides a path to residency for religious workers as well as an updated temporary work visa for shorter stays. Previously there was no residence option available to religious workers, so some communities were having trouble filling positions long-term,” Dr Coleman said.

He admitted the important role played by religious leaders in the spiritual lives of New Zealanders. He said his Ministry had consulted the ethnic communities and obtained their opinions in shaping the new policy.

According to Dr Coleman, religious workers applying for residence visa should satisfy a set of criteria and documentation.

“They must be sponsored by a registered religious organisation, justifying their long-term need. Applicants in this category should have spent the previous three years in similar capacity on a temporary visa,” Dr Coleman said.

The changes will also see the introduction of an ‘Updated Temporary Visa’ allowing religious workers to stay up to four years, at the end of which they can apply for residence.

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