Church Law and Tax 1990-07-01 Recent Developments Immigration Richard R. Hammar, J.D., LL.M., CPA •

Church Law and Tax 1990-07-01 Recent Developments


A federal court in the District of Columbia ruled that a Korean alien employed by an Oregon church as its music director was entitled to preferential admission status as a “professional.” Federal law makes preferential visas available to immigrants who are “members of the professions.” Generally, this makes immigration much easier. In 1984, a Korean church in Oregon notified the federal government that there were no qualified United States citizens ready, willing and able to fill the position of church music director. It sought a preferential visa on behalf of a Ms. Hae Sook Kim, a Korean citizen temporarily in the United States, and the visa was granted by INS. Soon, Ms. Kim was employed by the church as its music director. However, in 1986 the INS notified Ms. Kim that her preferential visa was going to be revoked on the ground that she in fact was not a “professional” (as required for the preferential visa), and that the church did not need a professional to serve as its music director. Ms. Kim and her church appealed this ruling, and a federal court reversed the INS position and ruled in favor of Ms. Kim and the church. The court based its conclusion that Ms. Kim was a professional on the following considerations: (1) she was a teacher; (2) she had a music degree from a respected Korean university; (3) her duties at the church involved extensive skill; (4) she was skilled in Korean music, which plays an indispensable position in Korean church liturgy and worship; and (5) she was fluent in the Korean language. In response to the government’s claim that Ms. Kim could not be a “professional” since she earned only $10,800 per year, the court noted that federal law requires that professionals earn no less than $8,840 per year. The court further observed: “Her salary may be below that of many other professionals for reasons unrelated to her professional status. Churches are likely to have less ability to pay high salaries than for-profit enterprises, though affidavits from ministers of other churches attest to the crucial need to have a professional music director, especially in evangelical churches. The arts generally pay smaller salaries than technical fields, and, as has been much noted, women working in jobs not dominated by men generally seem to be at the short end of the pay- gap.” Full Gospel Portland Church v. Thornburgh, 730 F. Supp. 441 (D.D.C. 1989).

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