Sorting Out Immigration Law for Churches
Navigating the volatile, unpredictable nature of this legal hot topic.
Sorting Out Immigration Law for Churches

The news: Illegal immigration, immigration reform, and border security remain flash points in America. Last year brought increased enforcements by the government, including growing numbers of Form I-9 audits and unannounced site visits with employers as well as added scrutiny placed on various types of visa programs.

The first quarter of 2019 has brought much of the same. The H-1B visa lottery system soon will undergo the first of two big changes. A reordering of the visa’s selection process, expected to reduce the number of lower-paid workers approved while increasing the number of those with higher degrees who get selected, takes effect on April 1, reports The Kiplinger Letter. The second change, an online registration process for H-1Bs, has been delayed to 2020.

The US grants 85,000 H-1B visas every year. The country also grants thousands of other types of visas.

Separately, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services earlier in March also announced plans “to close all of its 23 international field offices, which handle everything from immigration applications to fraud detection,” reported Politico. The closures could affect foreigners seeking to join relatives in the country, although the USCIS said it was working with the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department to eliminate interruptions to immigration services, the website reported.

Meanwhile, a LifeWay Research survey of 1,000 Protestant pastors indicated 70 percent favor immigration reform that provides a path to citizenship for those individuals who are currently in the country illegally. Five years ago, only 58 percent of pastors said the same, LifeWay said. Additionally, 80 percent said the US government is responsible for stopping illegal immigration, down from 87 percent who agreed with the statement in 2014, and 76 percent said Christians “have a responsibility to assist immigrants even if they are here illegally”—about even with the 79 percent who agreed five years ago.

The Church Law & Tax take: Church leaders often wonder about their legal responsibilities when it comes to immigration law. One occasional question pertains to churches that provide “sanctuary” to illegal immigrants. Leaders should note that there are no legal protections in place for churches engaging in such activity (although government crackdowns on the practice have been mostly unheard of).

The more common immigration issue churches face is in the area of employment law. All churches must keep I-9s on file, whether any of their employees are foreign nationals or not. Furthermore, for those churches that do employ foreign nationals, there are heightened needs for tracking the rules and requirements of the various visa programs and maintaining compliance.

The current issue of Church Law & Tax Report dives deeply into these employment-related angles. Gerald Cipolla and Lina Yen Hughes, two attorneys who specialize in immigration law and work with churches, teamed up with attorney Richard Hammar to provide a comprehensive update on these angles. They give an overview of record-keeping requirements to help churches in the event of an I-9 audit or workplace visit from the government. They also cover many of the visa programs relevant to churches when they contemplate hiring foreign nationals.

Immigration law remains a volatile topic, subject to new updates and changes at any moment. This latest article is a must-read for all church leaders.

Matthew Branaugh is Editor of Christianity Today’s Church Law & Tax.

This content is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. It is published with the understanding that the publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting, or other professional service. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional person should be sought. "From a Declaration of Principles jointly adopted by a Committee of the American Bar Association and a Committee of Publishers and Associations."

Due to the nature of the U.S. legal system, laws and regulations constantly change. The editors encourage readers to carefully search the site for all content related to the topic of interest and consult qualified local counsel to verify the status of specific statutes, laws, regulations, and precedential court holdings.

Like This Article?

If you enjoyed reading this article, get more like it. Become a Church Law & Tax member today.

Learn more

Already a member? .

Recent Posts
Become a Church Law & Tax Member



Experience a whole new way to set compensation. Eliminate the guesswork – get access to detailed compensation reports in just minutes.

Dealing with Dangerous People

Dealing with Dangerous People Member access only

This resource goes through safety measures to ward off dangerous individuals from entering your church.
Medical Emergency Preparation

Medical Emergency Preparation  Member access only

Is your church ready for a medical emergency?