With the four central visa departments in Israel closed to issue passports, people are scrambling to get the documentation they have waited a long time for. While having a passport is an important human right to freedom of movement, having the ability to obtain and upgrade visas is also equally important. After Covid-19, getting/renewing a passport became almost impossible, with no solution. The new Minister of the Interior, Moshe Arbel named his solution the passport marathon, shutting down the four major visa departments in Israel for only passport services. This marathon for passports may be helping some but is harming those who need the visa departments that are shutting down.
Why did the passport marathon begin?
After Covid-19, the demand for getting/renewing passports in Israel and around the world increased tremendously. As the need for passports increased, the places that held these services faced a new problem: hackers. Hackers in Israel would take all of the upcoming passport appointments from the governments online system, and sell them to citizens for hundreds of dollars, making getting these appointments very hard. Getting a passport became one of the hardest things to do in Israel, devastating many people who needed to travel for numerous reasons.
Who decided to start the Passport Marathon?
The new Minister of the Interior of Israel, Mr. Moshe Arbel, made the decision to shut down the four major visa departments and use them to issue passports as an attempt to solve the passport crisis. However, what Mr. Moshe Arbel did not realize is that by shutting down visa departments for issuing passports, he was creating a visa crisis. Another department responsible for the Passport Marathon is the Population and Immigration Authority, as this department issues Israeli passports and can do this job anywhere, they do not need to do this in the visa departments.
Passport Marathon and Visas
Because the largest visa departments completely closed for the passport marathon, many people in and out of Israel had serious problems. People had appointments for the visa departments for months in advance, and these appointments were now being canceled. This was a serious issue for people who needed documents or upgraded visas quickly. There were no answers given to these people, causing them panic and distress. Only at the beginning of the passport marathon did citizens get news that there would be a six-month extension of a list of visas and licenses. While only the four major visa departments were supposed to close, other visa departments began to close as well with no warning or explanation. People who had appointments were canceled on with no reason, other than that they needed to issue passports.
Petition to the Supreme Court
The immigration law firm of Decker, Pex, Levi, Rosenberg filed a petition to the Supreme Court May 23, 2023 urging Israeli authority to recognize the issue and reopen the four main Israeli visa departments.
What did the Israeli government do?
Due to the four largest visa departments closing, the Israeli government set out a six-month extension for specific visas and licenses. These include A1, A2, A3, A4, A5, B1, and permits for temporary stay in Israel for Palestinians. While an extension for these specific visas and licenses are good, they do not cover all visas that people in Israel hold.
Who are some of the people harmed by the passport marathon?
For those who hold B2 (tourist) Israeli visas, the passport marathon can be very harmful. Those with B2 visas may have trouble coming back to Israel, have trouble with their medical insurance, and may have problems with extending their visas after the passport marathon is over. Also, some spouses of Israeli citizens wait abroad for their entry visa. Because of the passport marathon, these spouses are now forced to wait many extra months, harming their mental health and happiness. While some extensions were given, these extensions did not cover the issues of re-entering Israel. People may need to leave Israel for various reasons, work, personal, etc., and without a re-entry visa, they cannot come back. This means that these people are stuck in Israel with no way to leave and return. Another group of people harmed are those who need to upgrade their visa. Without the ability to do so, people may suffer financially. The passport marathon in Israel harms many people, with these problems and more. Without a solution for the closed visa departments, many Israeli’s and foreigners will be harmed financially and emotionally.
Is the passport marathon illegal?
Although the passport marathon may have been set in place with positive intentions, the reality of the visa departments closing lacks the correct set-up. The visa departments closing does not have proper factual foundation. This lack of foundation makes the closing of the visa departments valid. Because the Israeli authority did not make it known to the public their full plan, they are not adequately following the law. While not illegal, the manner in which the visa departments were shut down was extremely unreasonable. No information was given, there was no pre-planning, and human rights were harmed.
Lasting effects of the passport marathon
The passport marathon did more than just close visa departments. The passport marathon sent a message to foreigners that their problems are less important than those of native Israeli’s. To fight this issue, the Israeli government needs to think of a different solution to fix the passport issue, while also keeping the visa departments open.