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DOX: Government disclosure shows extent of Scientology’s reliance on cheap foreign labor


In 2009, researcher Jeff Jacobsen wrote about Scientology’s documented problems bringing foreigners to the United States to work in its “Sea Organization.” Anecdotally, ex-Scientologists say that the church relies heavily on foreigners to accept jobs under the bizarre working conditions of the Sea Org, which requires signing a billion-year contract and working 16-hour days, seven days a week, often at menial labor jobs, and for just pennies an hour.

Scientology brings such workers to this country under a special visa — the Non-Immigrant Religious Worker or R-1 visa — under the idea that they’re coming here to perform religious duties at a bona fide tax exempt religious organization, which are the requirements to qualify. Some of those applications had been denied by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and had been appealed, and those appeal documents were public. Based on them, Jacobsen found that Scientology had a hard time explaining how Sea Org employees, who often work in menial or clerk positions, should be considered “religious” workers. He also found cases where the workers themselves were bewildered by the entire process, and that they found themselves virtually indentured servants in the US, making next to nothing and pretending to be “religious” workers when often they were just doing janitorial work.

But how big was this issue? For years, we’ve heard stories of large numbers of immigrants being brought to the US to work in the Sea Org and staff Scientology facilities, particularly its “spiritual mecca,” the Flag Land Base in Clearwater, Florida.

“Why would a religious group need to bring in workers to the United States?” Jacobsen asked. And just as importantly, “Who would want such a job, where you sign a billion year contract, work [100] or more hours per week, and get $50 a week plus room and board?”

Now, for the first time, we have a better idea of the scope of Scientology’s reliance on the R-1 visa program, thanks to researcher and friend to the Underground Bunker, R.M. Seibert, who used the MuckRock investigative website to obtain a stunning disclosure of visa records from the USCIS.

Thanks to a change in regulations that took effect in 2009, data about the number of visa applications being made by specific tax-exempt organizations became legally searchable under the Freedom of Information Act. Seibert asked for, and received, a breakdown of the total number of visa applications from January 2009 to June 2015 that had been submitted by organizations with “Church of Scientology” in their names, along with data on whether the applications had been approved and from which country the worker was originating.

According to the USCIS, since 2009….

— Scientology entities have applied for 3,447 religious worker visas. This does not count Scientology entities which do not have “Church of Scientology” in their names, which are numerous (the Religious Technology Center, Church of Spiritual Technology, American Saint Hill Organization, Association for Better Living and Education, etc.)

— Of those applications, 92 percent were approved. Others are pending appeal.

— The vast majority — 75 percent — of applying workers were headed to the Flag Land Base in Clearwater, the Scientology facility that makes more money than the rest of the orgs combined, according to former top Scientology officials.

— The single biggest source of applicants — 600 workers — was Russia, with Italy, Mexico, Hungary, Canada, Taiwan, Ukraine, Venezuela, Germany, and Colombia rounding out the top ten sources.

Why, we asked Scientology spokeswoman Karin Pouw in an email, does the “world’s fastest growing religion” need to import so many workers to take Sea Org jobs in the US? So far, we haven’t received a response.

Scientology routinely claims to have millions of members, but multiple lines of evidence suggest worldwide membership is closer to 40,000, with about 3,500 in the Sea Org, according to former top Scientology executives who had access to enrollment figures and personnel records. These visa records suggest that the Sea Org’s very existence, then, relies heavily on convincing Russians and Italians and Mexicans and workers from other countries to come to the United States to staff the Flag Land Base.

“Those numbers are outrageous. It’s outrageous for an organization that is so small,” says former top Scientology spokesman Mike Rinder. “Even if you take seriously the number they advertise for the size of staff at Flag — two thousand people — those visa numbers suggest that since 2009 they’ve had a complete turnover of that many people.”

We’ve talked to former Scientology Sea Org workers who came to the US on R-1 visas, and they tell us about working at janitorial or clerk positions, even though they were in the country to be “ministers” in the Sea Org. In fact, the rule changes the USCIS adopted were supposed to crack down on fraud, which was widespread in the R-1 program. Homeland Security, in 2005, estimated that up to a third of R-1 visa applications were fraudulent.

One of the organizations that publicly opposed the rule changes was the Church of Scientology. Here’s Jeff Jacobsen again…

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.”

With its applications going through with a 92 percent approval rate, Scientology doesn’t seem to be suffering under the new rules. But the rule change made it possible for Seibert to get records of how many applications Scientology entities are making. Here’s the breakdown of which Scientology entities have been making those applications since 2009…


Scientology has become so accustomed to recruiting foreign workers, the extremely bureaucratic organization has institutionalized it, says Chris Shelton, a former Sea Org official who left the church in 2013.

“There was an R-1 visa drill,” Shelton says. “It was run by the recruiter who understood how to get the visas. There was an application process, and there was a way to fill it out so that it would go through. I was never trained in that, but I saw it happen over and over again.”

Shelton was in a position of management for the Sea Org’s western US operation, and he was kept informed as Sea Org recruiters were sent to Mexico to find new workers.

“The recruiters needed bodies. When you’re getting pushed for recruits, you get desperate. And it is a reflection of the desperation that Sea Org members felt to get bodies that they would go to foreign countries to find people who were barely qualified,” he says.

The “recruit pools” in the US had dried up, he adds. “They’re desperate. Where do we get more people? There’s a high attrition rate in the Sea Org. They have to fill those holes somehow,” he says.

We recently talked to a Russian immigrant and former Sea Org worker who asked us not to use her name. Her mother had come over to the US to join the Sea Org, and had spent years working at one of the facilities in the Flag Land Base, initially as a night cleaner. Eventually, her mother worked up to running one of the base’s hotels.

“It doesn’t really sound like religious work,” we remarked.

“No!” she said with a laugh. “Absolutely not.”

The woman herself had also come to the US on a religious worker visa, and then had spent her time at the Flag Land Base “cleaning and housekeeping. And then construction. I was helping to build apartments for three months,” she told us.

Construction crews made up of “religious” workers from Russia being paid about forty cents an hour when they were paid at all — was this what the R-1 visa was intended to produce in the US?

Russia has emerged as Scientology’s favorite recruit pool in recent years. Here’s the breakdown for all applicants since 2009…


“If the people from those countries are going into the Sea Org, they should be going into Sea Org installations in those areas. But instead they’re going to the US because no one in the US goes near Scientology if they’ve heard of Google,” says Rinder, the former church spokesman. “It’s more evidence that everything they say about their ‘international expansion’ is horseshit.”

In its press releases, Scientology emphasizes that it has opened up new church buildings around the world in its “Ideal Org” program, replacing older orgs with newer ones. But those buildings largely stand empty, and there’s increasing evidence that Scientology is suffering from severe staffing shortages as it looks for new workers from foreign countries.

And Mike Rinder says that the US government has noticed.

“ICE approached me about the religious worker visa situation. They were asking about this, about people being brought into the country by Scientology,” Rinder says, referring to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security’s law enforcement branch.

Like other government inquiries he’s experienced, however — like the FBI investigation into human trafficking in 2009-2010 — Rinder cautions that the government has shown little fortitude for taking on Scientology, even with evidence that it’s abusing the law.

“They’re afraid to take this on,” he says.


Bonus photos from our tipsters

L. Ron Hubbard’s tales from the Golden Age, brought to life for rapt Cub Scouts!



PROGRAMMING NOTE: Oscar nominations

Tomorrow morning at 8:30 am Eastern, the nominations for the 88th Academy Awards will be announced live in Beverly Hills. For that reason, we’re going to delay publication of our normal 7 am post until that news has been made public.


3D-UnbreakablePosted by Tony Ortega on January 13, 2016 at 07:00

E-mail tips and story ideas to tonyo94 AT gmail DOT com or follow us on Twitter. We post behind-the-scenes updates at our Facebook author page. After every new story we send out an alert to our e-mail list and our FB page.

Our book, The Unbreakable Miss Lovely: How the Church of Scientology tried to destroy Paulette Cooper, is on sale at Amazon in paperback and Kindle editions. We’ve posted photographs of Paulette and scenes from her life at a separate location. Reader Sookie put together a complete index. More information about the book, and our 2015 book tour, can also be found at the book’s dedicated page.

Learn about Scientology with our numerous series with experts…

BLOGGING DIANETICS: We read Scientology’s founding text cover to cover with the help of L.A. attorney and former church member Vance Woodward
UP THE BRIDGE: Claire Headley and Bruce Hines train us as Scientologists
GETTING OUR ETHICS IN: Jefferson Hawkins explains Scientology’s system of justice
SCIENTOLOGY MYTHBUSTING: Historian Jon Atack discusses key Scientology concepts

Other links: Shelly Miscavige, ten years gone | The Lisa McPherson story told in real time | The Cathriona White stories | The Leah Remini ‘Knowledge Reports’ | Hear audio of a Scientology excommunication | Scientology’s little day care of horrors | Whatever happened to Steve Fishman? | Felony charges for Scientology’s drug rehab scam | Why Scientology digs bomb-proof vaults in the desert | PZ Myers reads L. Ron Hubbard’s “A History of Man” | Scientology’s Master Spies | Scientology’s Private Dancer | The mystery of the richest Scientologist and his wayward sons | Scientology’s shocking mistreatment of the mentally ill | Scientology boasts about assistance from Google | The Underground Bunker’s Official Theme Song | The Underground Bunker FAQ

Our Guide to Alex Gibney’s film ‘Going Clear,’ and our pages about its principal figures…
Jason Beghe | Tom DeVocht | Sara Goldberg | Paul Haggis | Mark “Marty” Rathbun | Mike Rinder | Spanky Taylor | Hana Whitfield


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  • Jgg2012

    There are 3 key things about this statute that jump out: first, the applicant must have been a member of the religion for two years; next, he must do missionary work, not janitorial or fundraising (regging); third, the visa is temporary (30 months). How many overstayed their visa? I bet a lot. How much of the work is missionary? I bet very little.

  • Van Torrance

    So this is the story?
    People from other countries accept an R-1 Visa offer to come to the United States, then want to dictate the terms of their stay. When their host declines to accept their terms, they quit and then cry that their host did not provide continuing support for them.
    Who else could spin this into a story that the Church is abusing it’s workers. This is a matter of workers abusing the R-1 visa system. And guess what? Those “abused workers” are still in the US! Yes, that’s right, these scam artists successfully gamed the system for “legal” entry to the United States, and are now gaming you suckers for sympathy.

    • Qbird

      You’re the one who buys LRH crap Trixie Van Torrance. Here’s a quote from an OT8 sucker:

      ‘I thought the OT VIII cognition was the end of the Bridge. It kinda made sense to me. The Clear cognition being that you mocked up your own reactive mind (or in layman’s terms, you swallowed all the shit about there being a reactive mind that has a negative effect on you and at long last you are seeing through the con and suspect there was never such a thing in the first place) and the OT VIII cognition that your case was all made up by body thetans and you were never that person that these body thetans were remembering as your past. So you end up at the top of the Bridge, now rid of the idea of the reactive mind and disabused of anything your body thetans ever told you. And at this top of the Bridge (after parting with a million dollars or more) you have reachieved the state of who and what you were before you ever walked through the door of a Dianetics centre or Org. To me, that is profound. If there are higher OT levels then the first cognition might be that Ron made it all up to give you more confidence in yourself. The second cognition might be that Ron conned you out of a shit-ton of money and the best years of your life, all the while laughing at what a shit-for-brains you were for falling for the con. The third cognition might be that the chances of getting your money back are zero so you should just slink out the door and keep quiet about it all.’

      And here’s another sucker who actually says how much this shit costs:

      • Van Torrance

        Who are you addressing this to? I think you replied to the wrong post.

        • Qbird

          Nope, it is to you Van, whoever you are today.

          There are many who have left Scientology forever. Perhaps you should ask why.

          The Church would have you ignore the words of ex-scietologists “for your own protection” and “to save you from enturbulation”. But maybe you are stronger than they give you credit for.

          I have faith that you are capable of such a thing. You should, too.

          Have a great day today. The Blue Sky that you have bought is especially beautiful, yes?!

          • Van Torrance

            I think your reactive bank is talking. This has nothing to do with what I posted.

            • Qbird

              I do not believe in Hubbard’s reactive bank.

              I do believe he was good at making things up… for all the suckers out there who need to buy some certainty.

              Also, I don’t believe in Xenu’s “body thetan” problem, nor in L. Ron Hubbard’s exorcism to handle the “body thetan” problem.
              I don’t think Xenu caused the Wall of Fire, and I don’t believe that “body thetans” infest us all, and I don’t think I need to do (or BUY!!!) L. Ron Hubbard’s OT levels 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 exorcism of the “body thetans” which Xenu supposedly caused all of us earthlings this “body thetan” infestation which we all supposedly suffer from today.

              I don’t believe any of these things, thank you.

              Good luck on your next level however. May it make your needle float, Van.

              End of session.

            • Qbird

              I take exception with your blithely calling people who read here, “suckers”…
              It is not okay.
              In this sense I have answered you directly, with intention & without reservation.

            • Van Torrance

              Okay, thank you.

            • Qbird

              Ack! How kind of you… I appreciate the gentle flow.
              Thank you Van for having the spunk to come here & comment.
              Your opinion matters.

              Please keep in mind: if you don’t call me a sucker, I promise to not throw that back at you.

              If you hadn’t included the name-calling in your post, you may have received a different response.

              Serious now, good luck… with the Standard Tech™ & your Scientology®

              May it not cost you too much during your present day life.

            • Van Torrance

              Thank you for that as well.
              As for costing “too much”, I am a completely sane and rational being who is self-determined with complete certainty about my beingness, so … costing “too much” is not going to be a problem. It will cost exactly as much as I wish it to.

              As for “name calling”, it seems like you’ve found your bank. It took me several minutes to realize you were triggering on the word “sucker”. Can you recall the first time someone called you a “sucker”?

            • Qbird

              oh funny – you’re it! You are the first human being to call me that.
              If I had been knocked out I would have an engram right now!! Holy crap!
              Good thing I’m wide awake.

              But if I am to be pressed hard for an earlier similar & I tap into my imagination – maybe it happened way way back when I was just a baby clam ~ ??? Could that be?


              Dr. Lafayette Ronald Hubbard (March 13, 1911 – January 24, 1986) spoke on this long ago.

              YaY for your certainty, it will serve you well.

            • Qbird

              Yeah – Ron claims clams as our ancestors. What a hoot!
              That ol’ Ron, he was so so Science-y.

            • Van Torrance

              3-2-1 this session is over.
              Well i wouldn’t want to evaluate for you, but it is true that sucking is a primary function for a clam.

            • Qbird

              lol – thank you for not evaluating for me. And it is good the session is over bc I’ve been on call for work the last 3 hours & just now got a call to go in. So I must go.
              You did not answer my other questions. 🙁

              But! This was fun Van. 3-2-1 ~ is this really how a session truly ends?
              fascinating. take care.

              Clams, yum ~

            • Qbird

              p.s. the ‘bank’ is a lie. The reactive bank does not exist.

            • Qbird

              Are you a trained auditor Van?

              Can auditing work without an emeter?

            • And I’m Cute, Too

              Exactly as much as you wish? Just wait until the registrars lock you in — and won’t let you leave until you buy a jazillion intensives!

            • Van Torrance

              I already know your cult’s rhetoric and slogans. This is a myth that you’ve been conditioned to accept as truth.

            • Andrea ‘i-Betty’ Garner

              Reactive Bank 😀 Bless you.

    • And I’m Cute, Too

      “Dictate the terms of their stay”? You mean, like being allowed to keep their own passports? Being allowed to rest and eat properly? From all we’ve heard, foreign workers on the Sea Org don’t get any of those benefits that we (outside of Scientology Inc.) take for granted.

      • Van Torrance

        All you’ve heard it’s what your cult tells you, and your cult is strictly based and hate and distrust.

        • And I’m Cute, Too

          What I’ve heard is the accounts of former members, Van. And Scientology Inc. has yet to answer their accusations in any convincing way.

          Considering that this is the criminal group that infiltrated government offices, framed Paulette Cooper for terrorism and nearly drove her to suicide, the disturbing stories of ex-Sea Org staff are not that hard for me to believe.

          • Van Torrance

            What you’ve heard are old stories of individual experiences that have been exaggerated, embellished, and repeated for 30 years. They have been generalized to include all Scientologist when in fact, if it happened at all, happened in isolation. People are not locked in rooms. If they were, there would be arrests for unlawful imprisonment and the behavior would stop immediately.

            Next up. .. Scientology and the law enforcement conspiracy theory.

            • And I’m Cute, Too

              There doesn’t have to be a conspiracy between the Co$ and the law. Isn’t it a High Crime to testify against fellow Scientologists, or bring criminal charges against them?

              Testifying hostilely before state or public inquiries into Scientology to suppress it.

              Reporting or threatening to report Scientology or Scientologists to
              civil authorities in an effort to suppress Scientology or Scientologists
              from practicing or receiving standard Scientology.

    • madame duran

      Who besides the U.S. government gets to dictate how long a foreigner can stay in America? NOBODY. The terms are already set at one year for religious worker visas and applicants must comply with the rules or face severe penalties (deportation).

      Painting work migrants as ungrateful, demanding, manipulative, spoiled brats who abuse American hosts (especially after Scientology has benefitted from their SLAVE LABOUR) is incredibly disgusting. If they were truly that difficult, why does the Cult of Scientology continue to rely on them so heavily? Are there not enough American Scientologists to fill in those positions? I don’t know how you, Van Torrance, can defend an organization that regularly mistreats its members so badly.

  • mrtampa2

    When I worked there about 20% of the staff were Russian, 10% Hungarian, 35% Latino, 35% USA citizen, 10% other country. I can imagine since I left this ratio is even worse. Only countries where Scientology is relatively new have believers who are willing to come to work for Sea Org… However only 50% makes through EPF, lot disappears after couple of years, lot of people leaves.

  • The value of the holy shit always exceeds the values of any human. Hmmm, maybe the company originated from outer space after all and The good old L Ron Hubbard was the real Xenu, having a lot of Xenophobia’s in the semantic dyslexia.