PORT TOWNSEND — The pastor of St. Mary’s Star of the Sea Catholic church in Port Townsend has returned to Ghana because his religious worker visa has expired.
Father Peter Adoko-Enchill left for Ghana last Friday, after his R-1 (religious worker) visa expired and his application for permanent residency has yet to be processed, said Helen McClenahan, managing director of communications for the Archdiocese of Seattle.
“Father Peter Adoko-Enchill has been in the Archdiocese for five years serving as pastor of St. Mary Star of the Sea Catholic Church in Port Townsend,” McClenahan said.
“He was here in the U.S. on an R-1 VISA, which is a non-immigrant visa for religious workers.
“These visas last for five years, after which the employer must apply for permanent residency on the person’s behalf or the visa-holder must leave the country.”
The Archdiocese of Seattle began the process for a permanent resident visa for Adoko-Enchill in January, but the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has not filed the paperwork, according to a letter from the Most Rev. Paul Etienne, archbishop of Seattle, sent to the parishioners Nov. 24.
“Because Father Peter’s authorized stay has expired, he will wait in Ghana for U.S. immigration authorities to process the initial paperwork,” McClenahan said.
After that, he will need to complete the permanent residency process through Homeland Security and the U.S. Consulate in Ghana, she said.
It is unknown if or when Adoko-Enchill would return to the U.S., and Father John Topel, former pastor of St. Mary’s, will be filling in through December while the archdiocese seeks a long-term pastor.
“Despite initiating this process almost 10 months ago, Immigration has not responded, and now we have run out of time,” Etienne said.
“I am personally troubled by this disruption and am aware of other dioceses who are increasingly dealing with these kinds of delays in processing permanent residency applications.”
A Citizenship and Immigration Services spokesperson said the agency does not comment on individual cases.
If Adoko-Enchill returns, it is expected he will again lead St. Mary’s Star of the Sea Catholic church.
Adoko-Enchill was born in Baifikrom, Ghana and ordained into priesthood in 1984. In 2014, he received permission to continue his ministry in the U.S. after serving in various positions in Ghana.
Adoko-Enchill must wait a full year before he is eligible for another R-1 visa, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website.
Jefferson County reporter Zach Jablonski can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 5, or at [email protected].