Immigration change set to beckon religious workers

New Zealand - There are hopes that changes to immigration policy will help address a shortage of priests, rabbis, pastors and monks.

Immigration Minister Jonathan Coleman will today announce new rules making it easier for religious workers to stay in the country.

An updated temporary visa for religious workers will be brought in under the changes. The visa will allow a person to stay for up to four years, after which they can apply for residency.

"This new policy provides a path to residency for religious worker," Dr Coleman said.

The changes came after public consultation, with 71 submissions received from the Buddhist, Christian, Jewish, and Hare Krishna faiths.

A shortage of workers was reported across a wide range of religions.

"New Zealand is becoming more diverse, with a different demographic make-up than 20 years ago. There is a wider range of spiritual needs," Dr Coleman said.

Current immigration policies did not define "religious work" and had no residency option.

"So some communities were having trouble filling positions long-term." In many cases, evidence of paid employment was required.

This was a hurdle for the Catholic Church, which did not pay priests. "This should sort things out. It will be a huge relief to the Catholic Church."

To cut the possibility of fraud, religious workers will need to meet several criteria, including sponsorship by a religious organisation.