Migrant Religious Workers – An update

Migrant Religious Workers – An update

Faith based organisations often look to sponsor religious workers from outside the EEA to enhance their experiences within the organisation. Whilst the term ‘worker’ is prescribed by the UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) which is part of the Home Office, many organisations rely upon this route to bring sisters, priests and other religious members of a congregation to the UK.

It is important to consider the possible routes. Tier 2 (Minister of Religion) visas are for more long term placements. Migrants can come to the UK for a maximum of six years, and if they meet the necessary rules, remain indefinitely beyond five years. Tier 5 (Temporary Worker) religious workers are for shorter term placements.

On 10 January 2019 changes were made to the Immigration Rules which meant that organisations could no longer sponsor a migrant in the Tier 5 (Temporary Worker) Religious worker category (under 245ZN of the Immigration Rules) to fill the role of a Minister of Religion.

This category was often used for Priests to come to the UK for short periods to cover temporary periods of absences. This route was also relied upon by congregations who wished for Nuns to come to the UK on a short term basis.

What is the difference between a Minister of Religion and a Religious worker?

The definition of a Minister of Religion is stated within the guidance as “someone who is a religious functionary whose main regular duties comprise the leading of a congregation in performing the rites and rituals of the faith and in preaching the essentials of the creed”.

Immigration Rule 169 confirms this definition:

  1. A minister of religion means a religious functionary whose main regular duties comprise the leading of a congregation in performing the rites and rituals of the faith and in preaching the essentials of the creed;
     
  2. A missionary means a person who is directly engaged in spreading a religious doctrine and whose work is not in essence administrative or clerical;
     
  3. A member of a religious order means a person who is coming to live in a community run by that order.

This means that a Priest coming to the UK to lead a congregation, by performing Mass and overseeing the other duties, whilst the incumbent Priest is absent, will not be able to apply under the Tier 5 route. Therefore the only option here would be under Tier 2 (Minister of Religion).

Distinction must therefore be made between a Minister of Religion and a Religious Worker. It must be asked whether an individual is coming to the UK to lead a congregation and performing those duties of faith. The purpose of visit must therefore be considered carefully.

Challenges for the Organisation

Organisations must therefore consider whether a migrant is needed to fill a vacancy, whether the role is supernumerary and whether this is simply for an ‘experience’ for the migrant. Visitors’ visas should also be considered.

When considering strategic planning within the organisation, thought must be given to whether sponsorship both long and short term, will assist the internal workforce needs and demands.

Brexit

We are aware that free movement is likely to end – once (if?) the UK exits the European Union. This is likely to have a significant impact on the majority of faith based organisations. Many rely on free movement to allow the work of their ministers of religion. Members of the congregation are often required to move between both EEA and non EEA countries to support their communities. Planning should be underway to ensure those individuals relying on free movement are protected, and that the organisation is prepared for a potential increase in demand for Certificates of Sponsorship through their Sponsor Management System.

Summary

Planning ahead has never been so important in our current political climate, with the fast paced changes to Immigration law. Changes are constantly being made to the Immigration Rules as well as the rights of European nationals. Stay abreast of these changes and consider your right to sponsor. Are you compliant in all ways? Protect your licence, and ensure you are adhering to the necessary checks for Right to work as well as the requirements under your sponsor licence.

The law and practice referred to in this article has been paraphrased or summarised. It might not be up-to-date with changes in the law and we do not guarantee the accuracy of any information provided at the time of reading. It should not be construed or relied upon as legal advice in relation to a specific set of circumstances.

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