How going overseas as a religious worker is spawning opportunities for Indians
Posted on August 28, 2012
Two of the victims of the deadly shootout at the Oak Creek Gurdwara in Wisconsin — Prakash Singh and Ranjit Singh — were priests who had moved to the US as religious workers. Even as the shell-shocked Sikh community at Oak Creek mourn for the victims, they are probably missing the two men who would have offered them spiritual guidance in the time of grief.For the Indian community overseas, the need for religious instruction and discourse is often even more important than Indians back home. Probably the reason for hundreds of Indian religious workers getting jobs in countries such as the US, Canada, UK and Australia every year.
Surjit Singh (name changed on request), moved to Gurdwara Nanaksar in Brampton, Toronto, about 15 years ago. “I came here from Punjab because the gurdwara authorities wanted me here. I am now involved in religious duties such as reading from the Guru Granth Sahib and community service,” says Singh. The Nanaksar Gurdwara trust initially sponsored his work permit and later his application for permanent residence. Says Gurmeet Singh, member of the board of the trust: “At our gurdwara, we currently have seven priests from India.”
Sponsoring the Workers
The management of religious establishments overseas have to sponsor the workers for the visas. “For those of us who have settled here in the US, the temple becomes very important for community events and pujas. We select our priests carefully from a talent pool at religious centres in India such as Varanasi and Tirupati,” says Govind Pasumarthi, a Silicon Valley-based professional who is the co-ordinator chair for the Fremont Hindu Temple, California.
Three months back his temple hired 35-year-old Viswaprasad Kristipati from Srikalahasthi Temple in Andhra Pradesh. “I am from a family of priests and have 10 years of rigorous training in the Vedas. I have a masters degree in astrology,” says Kristipati, who now earns about $4,000 monthly. After two years, the temple authorities will apply for his green card if they are satisfied with his work.
Special Visa Categories
The US has a special category of non-immigrant visa allowing foreign nationals to work in religious institutions. “The R category visa is very popular and provides a great opportunity for people from India to go to America to develop or continue a religious vocation. Every year, there are a large number of applicants from Punjab, Gujarat and south India,” says Mumbai-based immigration lawyer Sudhir Shah.
This category of visa is not subject to a cap and while exact numbers from India are not known, in 2010-11 the US granted a total of 3,717 R1 visas. In UK too, religious workers are allowed entry either under the Tier 2 category or under Tier 5. “The second- and third-generation Sikhs here don’t like to work in gurdwaras and we have to find people from India. Under the new immigration rules, the process is quite rigorous,” says Mohan Singh Nayyar, general secretary of the Sri Guru Singh Sabha gurdwara in Hounslow, London.
Boom in Education & Training
The need for religious workers overseas has spawned a trend of formal education and training. Developing a curriculum in temple management for Hindu priests with an eye on jobs overseas, is a pet project of Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi. The state already offers diploma courses in temple management at the Bhagwat Vidyapith, Swaminarayan Viswa Vidyalay, Brahmachariwadi and at the KK Shastri College under the Somnath University. Both the institutions have placed students at temples in the UK and US.
“Many of the embassies in India find our students the best candidates to issue visas for religious workers,” says Sridhar Vyas, principal of the Brahmachariwadi Sanskrit Pathshala, Somnath University. In Punjab, the Guru Angad Dev Institute of Religious Studies, near Amritsar, has launched a graduate course in religious studies for young men who are planning to work in gurdwaras. Besides Sikh religious studies, the students are also taught English and other languages such as French, Spanish and German so that they can look at opportunities overseas.
Visa categories for religious workers
USA – Religious Worker (R)
This visa is for those seeking to enter the US to work in a religious capacity on a temporary basis. The applicant must be a member of a religious denomination having a bona fide nonprofit religious organisation in the US which must be either exempt from taxation or qualify for tax-exempt status.
Canada – Clergy
People coming to Canada to work as ordained ministers, lay persons or members of a religious order do not need a work permit to perform their religious duties or assist a religious group. These may include preaching doctrine and providing spiritual counselling.
Australia – Religious Worker Visa (subclass 428) & Religious Worker Visa (subclass 428)
This visa provides for the temporary stay of persons who will be full-time religious workers in Australia. Religious work is work of a religious nature for which the applicant has had relevant religious training. The religious work must serve the organisation.
UK – Tier 2 (minister of religion)
This category is for people who have been offered employment or posts or roles within their faith communities in the UK as ministers of religion undertaking preaching and pastoral work; missionaries; or members of religious orders.
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