UK visa rules are leaving parishes without supply priests, Catholic bishops said on Tuesday.
In a June 9 statement, the bishops said some parishes were unable to afford to bring priests from abroad to cover for their pastors when they fall ill or take annual leave.
Last year the UK government required ministers of religion intending to preach in places of worship to obtain expensive “Tier 2” visas.
The bishops said: “Most Catholic dioceses previously used Tier 5 Religious Worker visas for priests to come here on supply placements, while parish priests were away for short periods of time because of sickness, training or annual leave. These supply placements are essential as they allow Catholics to continue attending Mass, while also keeping parish activities running smoothly.”
“The new requirement introduced in 2019 for anyone preaching to use the Tier 2 Minister of Religion visas instead has more than doubled the costs incurred by parishes arranging supply cover. For some parishes this is unsustainable, compromising people’s opportunity to practice their faith.”
The statement was signed by Bishop William Nolan, lead bishop for migrants and refugees of the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland, and Bishop Paul McAleenan, his counterpart in England and Wales.
The bishops also criticised the government for requiring priests who have obtained postgraduate qualifications in English to undergo language tests at unnecessary expense.
“Seminaries that conduct formation in English are not necessarily recognised by the Home Office as meeting the English language requirement under the Tier 2 route, meaning that many priests who have been educated to postgraduate level in English are nevertheless required to take a language test with extra logistical and cost implications,” they wrote.
The bishops added that the difficulties facing parishes would deepen when the government ends free movement of European Union citizens within the UK following the country’s departure from the EU.
“Unless reforms are made, this situation will be worsened by the end of free movement, as priests coming from EU countries to provide supply cover will now be subject to the same regime,” they said.
The bishops’ comments came in a wide-ranging critique of a new immigration bill that paves the way for a points-based system for migrants seeking to settle in the UK.
The bishop said the bill, currently before Parliament, would “drastically alter people’s opportunities to build their lives here and contribute to our society.”
In their statement, sent to opposition party leaders at Westminster, they urged the government to reform the immigration system by setting a time limit on immigrant detention, removing financial barriers that keep families apart, and repealing the offence of illegal working.
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