The Senate on Friday passed a bill by Sen. Orrin Hatch to temporarily extend a special visa program for religious workers.

The bill would extend the program through March. It provides up to 5,000 special immigrant visas a year that religious groups can use to bring foreign nationals to America to work with the needy or others.

The bill now goes to the House. Congress had hoped to adjourn by Friday, but it is essentially in overtime as it addresses the economy's meltdown — so additional time is also available to act on such bills.

Hatch, R-Utah, initially enacted the visa program in 1990, and it has been extended four times. He hopes the short-term extension now can quickly work through Congress and that it will look at a longer-term extension later.

Hatch said the bill is vital "because it enables guest religious workers, who are not minsters, to render compassionate care and assistance," including ministering "to the sick, aged and dying."

The extension is endorsed by groups ranging from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to the American Jewish Committee, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Association of Evangelicals and the United Methodist Church.


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