Starting Churches that Reach H1B Visa Non Immigrant Visa Holders

Churches should not overlook this burgeoning mission opportunity.

The Immigration and Nationality Act allows employers in the United States to hire temporary foreign workers in highly specialized occupations such as STEM careers, granting them what is known as an H1B visa. Under this program, administered by an agency of the Department of Homeland Security, persons with this work visa can live in the United States, assigned to the an employer who petitioned them, for up to six years. They must then return to their home country for one year before being eligible for re-entry.

Over a five-day period in April each year, applicants file petitions via a lottery system for admission the following year. Over 236,000 individuals (the highest in history) petitioned for 65,000 regular and 20,000 Masters degrees level H1B visas for 2017. Churches and other legitimate 501c3 corporations are permitted under this same program, but are not counted in this number and do not have a cap. Currently, the federal government is entertaining the notion of increasing the 2018 quota to 110,000.

With over 85,000 specialty occupation workers being admitted each year for a maximum of six years, there are more than a half million H1B visa holders in the United States at any given time. And this program is only one of several such temporary programs in place in the United States. What do we know about recent non-immigrant visa holders?

  1. 72% of H1B visas approved are for workers between 25 and 34 years old.
  2. Over 41% hold bachelors, 40% Masters, almost 13% doctorate, and around 6% hold professional degrees.
  3. Infosys (headquartered in Plano, TX) is the #1 employer of persons with H1B visas with 33,000 employees. Tata Consultancy (headquartered in Rockville, MD) is #2, and IBM (headquartered in Durham, NC) is #3.
  4. The top cities for employer applications for 2016 H1B applications were 1) New York; 2) Houston; 3) San Francisco; 4) Atlanta, and 5) San Jose.
  5. According to a recent report by the Brookings Institute, “Half of all approved H-1B petitions nationwide went to only nine metropolitan areas, and one-quarter went to just three: New York, Dallas, and San Jose.”
  6. The top work states (2016) were California, Texas, New York, New Jersey and then Illinois. Forty states had more than 1,000 H1B visa holders.
  7. The top industry for these visas is Computer Systems Design and related services with 335,000 employees. It had almost 10 times the number of the next highest industry— Management, Scientific and Technical services, with 37,000 employees.* (See for an in depth report.)

So, what’s the point? There are 500,000 young, highly educated professionals with H1B visas living in the United States at any given time. They work hard, make good salaries, and within six years, return home, often to become leaders and persons of influence. The largest numbers are from India and China, places in the world where the United States and other nations send missionaries…places in the world that have really large populations of unreached peoples. In these places, especially in India, gospel movements and church planting multiplication have primarily taken place among lower classes and castes, not among high class, (or caste) educated persons. In the United States, where they often work alongside professional, educated, committed Christians, there is a whole new opportunity to hear the gospel, if we will take advantage of what God has put before us.

Is six years (the maximum time H1B visa holders have to stay in the U.S. with one employer before returning home) enough time to hear the gospel, become a follower of Jesus, and learn to make disciples? It’s plenty of time. How I wish every member of every Silicon Valley church, every New York church, every Houston church, every church in the many cities that host temporary visa holders—knew how to share Christ with a Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Muslim. Can new churches commit to a missional culture that spills into the workplace? Why not?

Published June 4, 2016

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