Security experts and religious leaders are warning that the U.S. visa program, which temporarily admits religious workers to enter the U.S. from other countries, may be letting jihadists into the country.
A Fox News report revealed that the “R visa program for non-immigrant clerics and religious workers” has been abused for a long time. Under the program, successful applicants can remain here for up to five years, after which they are then allowed to apply for a “permanent residency under their R-1 status.”
Adnan Khan, former president of the Council of Pakistan American Affairs, told Fox News that “people have tried to come in with this visa to preach their hardline and dangerous views, and then encourage [the] vulnerable to travel back with them where they are further brainwashed and can potentially be used to harm the USA.” He said rather than banning innocent Muslims and curtailing migration, officials should instead be “looking at visas like this one which have raised red flags and caused trouble in the past.”
Military expert Col. James Williamson is concerned about the fact that the R visa program extends temporary residency to spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21. He said that because of this loophole, the program makes the U.S. more vulnerable to jihadi attacks.
“The administration should at least temporarily suspend this dangerous loophole in our immigration process,” said Williamson. “But they should brace for backlash. In spite of applying equally to all religions , it’ll be maligned and portrayed as another form of a Muslim ban.”
Others say the program is a great way for foreigners and Americans to exchange religious ideas.”The R visa program facilitates the free exercise of religion by Americans,” said immigration law attorney James Wolf of California, noting that it’s part of an informal exchange of international religious workers. “Most R-1 visa holders are coming to the U.S. to temporarily preach in an established U.S. church, synagogue, mosque, which is supported by American citizens.”
There are normally limits on how many immigrant visas go out, but the R-1 visa is exempt from quotas, and there are no statistics showing which countries or religions have received the visas. “Between 2012 and 2016, the U.S. issued 23,029 R-1 visas – averaging 4,605 per year – as well as 7,637 R-2 visas for spouses and children, or about 1,528 annually,” according to data.
Abuse of the R-1 and R-2 visas has been going on for years. According to the report, seven top officials of the Holy Land Foundation were indicted in 2004 “for providing material and upward of $12 million in financial support to the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas.” According to the indictment, “several of the religious leaders established the now-defunct charity by submitting false R visa applications on behalf of more than 200 immigrants from the Middle East.”