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Hiring Staff for Your Ministry

Why and How You Should Ask About Work Authorization

Churches and religious organizations have been hiring (sometimes inadvertently) foreign nationals to work in their organizations for years. Whether or not you are actively considering hiring foreign workers you need to be aware that when you recruit (whether actively or inadvertently) for a position in your organization the U.S. government regards you as a prospective employer of foreign workers and requires you to play a role in enforcing U.S. immigration laws.

Federal immigration law regulates the employability of foreign nationals in the United States. Before 1986, employers generally risked little when illegally hiring foreign individuals. The worst that might happen was the employer losing a worker through deportation. Beginning in 1986, however, the worksite became an enforcement site for immigration law, with employers required to check the work authorization of every worker they hire on pain of stiff penalties, and even criminal prosecution, for hiring workers who could not prove their eligibility to work.

While there appears to be an upward trend among churches to actively recruit foreign nationals to work in their organizations, churches frequently have found themselves in situations where their actions “inadvertently” resulted in the hiring of a foreign national. In a recent article on the “Requirements of Hiring Foreign Nationals at Your Church,[1]” published in Church Law & Tax Report, the authors cite several common examples of how a church might get tripped up.

Example 1.  A pastor, the citizen of a foreign country where he is employed as the pastor of a local church is in the United States on a visitor’s visa. He speaks at a local church and the church collects and pays the Pastor a “love offering.” The church is not sure how to handle the payment and whether or not the funds are subject to taxes and reporting to the IRS.

Example 2.  A citizen of a foreign county currently living in the U.S. is hired to perform custodial services at the church. The church treasurer is uncertain how to report the income and whether the individual is even eligible to work in the United States.

Example 3.  Joe is a pastor in foreign county who is currently traveling in the United States on a tourist visa. While traveling he attends an ethnic church of individuals from his native county. The church would now like to hire him as a pastor. What immigration issues are involved? Can Joe be hired while the issues are being resolved? If employed, what records will the church have to maintain after obtaining employment authorization.


[1] Church Law & Tax Report, March/April 2019.  Publisher: Christianity Today

Posted in: Employment Law, News

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