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Scientology shows no sign of slowing down its use of religious visas for foreign labor

Last year in January we reported on some stunning new data that researcher R.M. Seibert managed to pry out of the US government with help from the MuckRock website. For years, Scientology watchers like Jeff Jacobsen had noticed that Scientology seemed to rely on foreign workers at its major bases, and that they were being brought in under a “religious worker” visa, also known as R-1.

But rather than do “religious” work, these foreigners were brought in to labor in Scientology’s “Sea Organization,” where workers sign billion-year contracts, work 112-hour weeks for only about $50 a week when they’re paid at all, and often do only manual or administrative work. With fewer Americans interested in joining Scientology’s hard-core Sea Org and its ascetic lifestyle, the church seemed to be turning to people from other countries who perhaps didn’t know what they were getting into.

But how many of them were there?

Seibert noticed that a change in the law that occurred in 2009 made it possible to obtain records of how many R-1 visas were being applied for and granted. So she convinced the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to fork over actual numbers, and they were pretty startling. In the period from 2009 to 2015, various entities of the Church of Scientology had received a total of 3,447 visas for foreign workers, with the single largest source coming from Russia (17 percent) and the single most frequent place they were going to the Flag Land Base in Clearwater, Florida (75 percent).


“Those numbers are outrageous. It’s outrageous for an organization that is so small,” former top Scientology spokesman Mike Rinder told us last year. “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.”

Now, Seibert has badgered the government into sending us new numbers that show the church continues to rely on these visas to fill Sea Org jobs at their major bases, and again primarily at Flag.

She found that in 2016, Scientology entities arranged for 564 new R-1 visas, and that so far in 2017, there have been another 301. So the new total since 2009, when these numbers first became public because of a change in the law, Scientology has brought in 4,158 “religious” workers to get paid about 40 cents an hour at its major bases.

To get some idea how significant these numbers are, it’s important to note that Scientology has never had the “millions” of members that it has claimed for many years. At its greatest extent, around the year 1990, former top officials tell is there were about 100,000 active Scientologists around the world. By 2008, those officials were telling us that number was down to only 40,000. And now, based on new defectors and other lines of evidence, we believe that the global number of active church members is fewer than 20,000. So bringing in more than 4,000 foreign workers to staff bases is really a significant development, and helps explain how Scientology keeps those bases running even as its overall numbers dwindle.

We have a couple of breakdowns of the data. First, here’s the number of visas that were approved, and the small number not approved, by year:


And here’s the list of places which applied for those visas (including those that were denied):


And which country the workers originated from:


And Seibert had one more revelation. As of April 2017, despite the large number of visas requested by the Church of Scientology, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has not performed a single site inspection of the church to make sure that its requests are on the up and up. Not one!


What Scientology sounds like

Thank you to Rod Keller for finding this gem, a woman who is planning the “Ideal Org” in Austin, Texas. Just let this religious fervor wash over you.



Scientology disconnection, a reminder

Bernie Headley has not seen his daughter Stephanie in 4,851 days.
Carol Nyburg has not seen her daughter Nancy in 1,834 days.
Jamie Sorrentini Lugli has not seen her father Irving in 2,608 days.
Quailynn McDaniel has not seen her brother Sean in 1,954 days.
Claudio and Renata Lugli have not seen their son Flavio in 2,448 days.
Sara Goldberg has not seen her daughter Ashley in 1,488 days.
Lori Hodgson has not seen her son Jeremy and daughter Jessica in 1,200 days.
Marie Bilheimer has not seen her mother June in 726 days.
Joe Reaiche has not seen his daughter Alanna Masterson in 4,815 days
Derek Bloch has not seen his father Darren in 1,955 days.
Cindy Plahuta has not seen her daughter Kara in 2,275 days.
Claire Headley has not seen her mother Gen in 2,250 days.
Ramana Dienes-Browning has not seen her mother Jancis in 606 days.
Mike Rinder has not seen his son Benjamin and daughter Taryn in 4,908 days.
Brian Sheen has not seen his daughter Spring in 1,015 days.
Skip Young has not seen his daughters Megan and Alexis for 1,417 days.
Mary Kahn has not seen her son Sammy in 1,290 days.
Lois Reisdorf has not seen her son Craig in 871 days.
Phil and Willie Jones have not seen their son Mike and daughter Emily in 1,376 days.
Mary Jane Sterne has not seen her daughter Samantha in 1,620 days.
Kate Bornstein has not seen her daughter Jessica in 12,729 days.


3D-UnbreakablePosted by Tony Ortega on August 23, 2017 at 07:00

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

The Best of the Underground Bunker, 1995-2016 Just starting out here? We’ve picked out the most important stories we’ve covered here at the Undergound Bunker (2012-2016), The Village Voice (2008-2012), New Times Los Angeles (1999-2002) and the Phoenix New Times (1995-1999)

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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