Scientology and Religious Workers Visas

by Jeff Jacobsen


NOTE: in 2022 this may still be going on


In 1995 a woman from Mexico was at the Church of Scientology headquarters in Clearwater Florida. After she signed her billion year contract with Scientology's religious order known as the Sea Organization, she became upset with the work they had her doing and quit the church. Scientology's Brian Anderson wrote, "When the working relationship of Ms. Perez-Morales was terminated, the church was very concerned that she return to Mexico and not make false representations about her immigration status as she had only been legally in the country based on her working for the church." The church was concerned enough that when the woman visited a church property, she was escorted off the grounds and followed. She says the Scientology security guard chased her yelling "You're a suppressive, you denigrated the church. We're going to kill you! You will be dead!" Police said the woman was distraught and declined to press charges.

In 1999 Artur Solomonyan, an Armenian newly arrived to Los Angeles on a four-month student exchange visa, decided to take a job with the Church of Scientology. He got a grand total of $50 per week, but he stuck it out because “the church applied for my permanent residence as a special immigrant religious worker.” [see testimony below] This was unusual on Scientology's part because one of the requirements for a Religious Workers, or R-1 visa is that the applicant “have been a member of the organization for at least two years preceding your admission into the U.S.” Also, Artur got tired of the poor pay and wound up driving taxi to supplement his income while waiting for his new visa. When it didn't work out, he moved on to New York. It's not clear whether Scientology was concerned about Artur overstaying his visa or not.

Why would a religious group need to bring in workers to the United States? Why would the U.S. set up a special visa for such workers? The Homeland Security office, in regards to religious workers visas, states that “The applicant is entering the United States solely to carry on the vocation of a minister of that denomination, or, at the request of the organization, the applicant is entering the United States to work in a religious vocation or occupation for the denomination or for an organization affiliated with the denomination, whether in a professional capacity or not.” An R-1 visa only allows for the visa holder to work for the entity that brought them into the country. The Washington Post gave an example of a Hindu temple in Lanham, Maryland. The temple requires trained Hindu stone masons to maintain the building, but U.S. immigration does not cover such a job as being religious. Hindu leaders insisted that these “Shilpis” are indeed religious workers and are required for proper religious care of the temple. They finally succeeded in persuading Homeland Security.

The Post reported that “Religious worker visas are used to bring in Catholic nuns, Hebrew teachers, Muslim imams and Baptist church administrators, among other workers. In 2006, more than 11,000 of the visas were issued, most to natives of Korea, Israel and India.“ The U.S. has recently been revising the rules for such visas to make them more strict in order to avoid fraud. Homeland Security states that in 2005 about one-third of all R-1 applications were fraudulent.

The Church of Scientology wrote against making the rules tighter. Glen Stilo, secretary of Scientology's Flag Services organization in Clearwater, Florida, explained in a letter that he feared use of the visas will be restricted to strictly religious duties. “A small percentage of our religious order perform work at our retreat that may not be considered 'religious functions,' such as administrative work unique to the ministry section of our church, or upkeep of church property and grounds. However, all of these religious workers have taken lifelong vows, are performing functions in accordance with our scriptures and ecclesiastical orders, and are therefore working in accordance with their religious vocation regardless of the type of work they perform at CSFSO.” Yes, Scientology apparently needs to bring in foreigners to do menial labor. Stilo goes on to complain about many issues regarding the new rule proposals. One wonders why Scientology couldn't find laborers from its members who are citizens of the U.S. so they could avoid all the paperwork and hassle required to bring in overseas workers.

Scientology has apparently had difficulty with Homeland Security in getting applications accepted. The group Anonymous, which has been waging a campaign against Scientology for the past year, has put up a web site ( with copies of many appeals Scientology has made for rejected applications. Forty nine of the listed cases were denied on appeal from between 2002 and 2007. In general, the applications were rejected because of the requirement that the worker must have been doing the same job at least two years prior to the request for the R-1 visa. In a case from 2003, Scientology complained that “[The beneficiary] has been performing a religious occupation, on a volunteer basis, for the Church of Scientology through [the petitioner] since entering the United States on March 28, 1994, as a religious worker per se for seventy (70) hours a week, Monday to Sunday, from 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m., on a continuous and full-time volunteer basis...” The immigration officer argued that "the beneficiary cannot claim to have the required two years continuous religious work experience immediately prior to the filing of the instant petition" and the appeal was rejected for the same reason.

Many of these applications appear to have been sloppily created. For instance, in a case from 2007, the appeal letter shows that as a Scientology “Sea Org” member, the petitioner signed a billion year contract that entitled her to a stipend of $50 per week plus room and board. Scientology submitted her W-2 forms for 2001 and 2002 to show that she was working at her religious duty the two years prior to her application, as required. In 2001 she was paid $1427.76, and in 2002 it was $2800.84. With 52 weeks in a year, $50 per week would be about $2600. The amount for 2001 does not match annual Sea Org pay. Also, the employer identification number on the W-2 forms supplied with the appeal is the Association for Better Living and Education (ABLE), not the Scientology entity the original petition said she would be working for. ABLE is by Scientology's own statement a secular entity. Why would Scientology be seeking a religious workers visa for a job at a secular organization? Homeland Security couldn't figure that out either and denied the appeal.

In an appeal from August 16, 2004, a Canadian born in 1983 was seeking an R-1 visa. The original petition claims the applicant was six years old when he signed his billion-year contract for the Sea Org, and “In 1993 [the beneficiary] joined the fraternity of the [Sea Org] and began working full time for the Church in Canada.” He was then 10 years old. “In 1998, [the beneficiary] traveled to the United States with an R-l Religious Visa to do a training program with the Church of Scientology International. . . . His specialized training qualified him for a position with [the petitioner] that utilizes the investigatory skills he learned. In March 2000, he was entrusted with a high security position requiring these investigatory techniques...” So at age 17 this kid was some kind of spy or something for Scientology with such unique skills that he was needed in other countries. Despite this designation of his job, the original petition still called him a “minister.” The petition never really nailed down just what job he would have in the U.S. nor did the appeal, despite governmental requests for that information. The Church claimed that signing the Sea Org contract is similar to becoming a Roman Catholic Monk. Are there any six-year old monks? At any rate, the required evidence that the petitioner had worked for two years prior to the application at the job he would take in the U.S. was insufficient, and for that and several other reasons, the appeal was denied.

An appeal from 2005 from a Sea Org member from Australia reveals another disaster in application filing. Homeland Security decided “that the petitioner had not established that the beneficiary's position qualifies as either a religious occupation or a religious vocation, or that the beneficiary had the requisite two years of continuous work experience immediately preceding the filing date of the petition. The director also questioned the authenticity and credibility of key documents reproduced in the record.” As evidence that the applicant had been working for the Church in Los Angeles in 2001 and 2002, to show two years of previous work in the same field, Scientology included a letter from a dentist who stated that the beneficiary "has been a dental patient of mine for several years; before January 1, 2000 to the present." Seeing as how the applicant hadn't entered the US until July of 2001, that was a bit difficult. But the dentist continued, saying the applicant "has not needed or used my dental services during this time, but these services have been available for him.” So, the applicant was a dental patient in name only, it appears. The applicant's passport showed that he had gone to South Africa in 2003 for three months as a vacation. Scientology tried to get around this gap in his work time by claiming that "there is no requirement to obtain experience letters from every location at which a religious vocation has been performed." However, they provided no proof that the applicant had been working in South Africa and had trouble getting around his passport stamp that checked off “vacation” as the purpose of the trip. This appeal was dismissed.

In another case the applicant claimed cinematography as the religious job she would be doing. She had gone to Russia for five months during the two-year period wherein she was supposed to be working at her prescribed profession. The church provided no evidence even on appeal to what she was doing in those five months. Nor did it provide information about seven other trips she made in that two-year time period. Many of the documents needed to show her career and times of work were lost in the bowels of Scientology's filing system, which seems to have happened in several cases that were appealed. Homeland Security helpfully suggested that the applicant submit copies of movies she had worked on during her trips to show she was working, but these were not produced. Her appeal was dismissed.

Another applicant petitioned to come to the US to fill the job of “Word Clearer.” This is the equivalent of a janitor or a burger flipper in Scientology. It is one of the lowest training levels in the Church, and is essentially helping parishioners look up words in a dictionary. Homeland Security let him in on appeal.

As can be seen, Scientology's application process for religious workers visas is often error-ridden. In some cases a completely different organization than the one originally sponsoring the alien would appeal. Applicants would move thousands of miles and not inform Homeland Security, even when such moves changed which district office would handle their case. And besides all that, who would want such a job, where you sign a billion year contract, work 70 or more hours per week, and get $50 a week plus room and board?

Meanwhile, after Artur Solomonyan moved from Los Angeles to New York, he was living off Medicare and other scams while trying to sell military grade weapons to an FBI informant. In March of 2007 Solomonyan and six of his co-defendants were found guilty of weapons sales. They were trying to sell things like surface to air missiles as well but were arrested before any of those transactions took place. Even though Scientologist Tom Cruise says of his religion “we are the authorities on the mind,” the Los Angeles Church didn't notice Artur's proclivities and wanted to keep him as an employee helping to save mankind. Their inability to screen out more dangerous characters, and their penchant for mishandling religious workers visa applications makes a good case for Homeland Security to tighten the rules for applications of these types of visas.

Excerpts of Artur Solomonyan testimony



v.. 05 Cr. 327



December 22, 2008
1:30 p.m.

[excerpts from transcript]

Q. You came to the U.S. in '99?
A. Yes, I did.
Q. Did you enter the United States legally or illegally?
A. Yes, I came with the student exchange visa.
Q. And how long did that visa allow you to stay in the United


A. Four months with permission to work and travel and for
Q. Where in the United States did you come?
A. Los Angeles.
Q. And you mentioned that your visa entitled you to work. Did
you in fact work while you were here?
A. Yes, I got employed at the Church of Scientology in Los
Angeles a few weeks upon my arrival.
Q. What were you doing for the church?
A. I was doing various tasks, such as reception and clerical,
paperwork. Mostly assisting others. It's nothing permanent I
was assigned to.
Q. When you came to the United States, did you come to remain
here permanently or did you come for a short time?
A. Initially I just came to work and travel, like I said. I
intended to go back and complete my studies but then, you know,
my family advised me that I could stay and have better
opportunities to finish my studies in the U.S.
Q. So did there come a time when you decided that you would
remain in the United States?
A. Yes.
Q. Approximately when was that?


A. That was in the summer of '99.
Q. Did you take any steps to remain here legally?
A. Yes. The church applied for my permanent residence as a
special immigrant religious worker.
Q. Did you file any other documentation?
A. Yes, they also filed for a temporary religious worker visa
to keep me legally in the country until I will be able to
adjust my status.
Q. Did there come a time when you learned that your
application for a green card had been denied?
A. Yes, that was about a year after that. It was the summer
of 2000.
Q. During that time period did you continue to work at the
A. Excuse me, throughout that period of that year?
Q. Yes.
A. Yes, I did.
Q. Did you have any other employment?
A. Yes, I started driving a taxicab in Santa Monica city in
Los Angeles.
Q. And why did you do that?
A. I needed an alternative source of funds because the church
wasn't paying me. They were paying me 50 bucks a week. That
wasn't even enough to cover my gas.
Q. Did there come a time when you ceased working at the Church
of Scientology altogether?
A. Yes, the summer of 2000.
Q. Did that have any impact on your immigration status in this
A. Yes. After a while I found out that a 3-month gap in
employment invalidated my religious worker visa which I had
known at that time I had stopped attending the church.


Scientology document confiscated in Greece. Found at



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Scientology and Religious Workers Visas by Jeff Jacobsen is licensed
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From a February 2010 forum post: "I speak for the foreign Sea org stuffs- they do have a very hard time to leave... The OSa has all their passports and papers and the new staff members signed so many papers - for them to leave even when they want is extremely hard (here I am talking from experience)."

My article on Project Chanology