Can those who are eligible for Aliyah choose to move to Israel without making Aliyah and obtain legal status in Israel? What are the ways for non-Jews to obtain the right to move to Israel and Israeli citizenship?
The Israeli law offers a number of tracks for moving to Israel without making Aliyah to foreigners who wish to do so. If they are Jewish, or of Jewish origin (children, or grand-children) they can move to Israel based on the Law or Return, but decide to ask for a temporary visa, instead of Aliyah and Israeli citizenship.
If they are not eligible according to the Law of Return, moving to Israel possibilities include arranging the status as a foreign spouse of an Israeli and their minor children (by way of the couple’s marriage or civil union).
In addition, people who have converted to Judaism can also receive an Israeli citizenship. Alongside this, there are a number of alternative tracks. In this comprehensive guide, we review vital legal information on this subject.
Our law firm, with branches in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, offers the services of lawyers specializing in Israeli immigration law. Our expert staff has great and proven experience in representing foreign citizens throughout the process of status regulation in Israel with the Population and Immigration Authority of the Ministry of Interior, and with the courts. We provide legal assistance to foreign citizens and facilitates the entire process of regulating their status.
Moving to Israel based on the law of return but without completing the Aaliyah process
The Law of Return grants every Jew, child and grandchild of Jews and their spouses the right to make move to Israel and immediately receive Israeli citizenship. This process is called Aliyah, which in Hebrew literally means “going up”. However, there may be those who are eligible for this right of Aliyah, but don’t want to finish the process with citizenship.
Why would immigrants not want Israeli citizenship? This status might not be desirable for several reasons. First, there are those who don’t want to join the IDF, which is compulsory for young Israelis, both boys and girls.
Second, some countries don’t allow dual citizenship and immigrants might not want to revoke their original nationality and give up a useful passport. Third, there might be immigrants who are not sure if they really want to move to Israel permanently, therefore wish to experience life in Israel for some time, before making the decision if to apply for citizenship.
There may be more reasons why immigrants would not want Israeli captainship, even after moving to Israel. Therefore, it’s important to know that immigration law allows immigrants who have the right for Aliyah to request various options for temporary status, before obtaining citizenship.
The A-1 visa was specifically designed for those who are edible for Aliyah, but want to live in Israel for a period of time, work and study, before deciding on citizenship. Immigrants from countries who don’t allow dual citizenship, may make Aliyah, but receive Israeli permanent residence status, without revoking their other citizenship and passport.
Also, there are visa programs that allow young Jews who are eligible for Aliyah a B-1 work visa, before deciding if they want to upgrade to a more permanent immigrant legal status.
Obtaining an Israeli citizenship for non-Jews – is it even possible?
Israel is defined as a Jewish and democratic state. As such, it serves as a national home for Jews from across the globe. The Law of Return allows Jews, and even the descendants of Jews to make Aliyah and obtain the status of citizens.
However, this should not confuse you – non-Jewish people can still obtain an Israeli citizenship. On the other hand, tracks for non-Jews to obtain this citizenship are narrower.
Based on our experience, we can confidently say that non-Jews are certainly able to obtain an Israeli citizenship. Our law firm has handled many cases of foreign citizens, and assisted them with regulating their status and obtaining a citizenship or permanent residency in Israel.
However, in most cases, this process is complex, and it’s important to understand in advance what it involves. Below we present the main tracks for obtaining an Israeli citizenship, and provide details on each of them.
Can a non-Jewish spouse obtain Israeli citizenship?
Marriage and spousal relationships between mixed couples is a complex topic in Israeli law. In general, spouses belonging to different religions are not permitted to marry within Israel. However, the Israeli Ministry of Interior recognizes the marriage of mixed couples when done abroad.
In addition, the immigration law allows mixed married couples to regulate their status in Israel, and obtain an Israeli citizenship for the foreign spouse. It should be noted that for many years, the Israeli Ministry of Interior has often made things difficult for mixed couples who wished to live together in Israel, sometimes even demanding the foreign spouse to leave the country or to stay outside of Israel until the completion of their status regulation process.
This has changed following an important ruling by the High Court of Justice issued in 1999 (the Stemka case). In this ruling, the High Court of Justice instructed the Ministry of Interior of change its policy, and to examine the nature and honesty of the spousal relationship, instead of the existing policy.
This ruling was joined by another ruling (the Oren Administrative Petition Appeal) which ruled similarly with respect to civil unions – couples who live together, but are not officially married. Following these rulings, the Ministry of Interior has updated its policy regarding this issue, and established procedures specifically defining the process for foreign spouses to obtain citizenship, with regards to both married spouses and spouses in a civil union.
The Citizenship Law provides a unique track applying to married couples, which usually takes five years, at the end of which the foreign spouse is granted citizenship. The track with respect to couples in a civil union is longer, and takes about seven years. This track also applies to same-gender couples.
In both cases, the status regulation is done as part of a procedure called the “gradual process.” This procedure requires the submission of a joint life application, after which the foreign spouses will be granted visas.
They will have to undergo periodical interviews, examining the spousal relationship’s honesty. Since this process is long and bureaucratically cumbersome, it’s best to receive help from a lawyer specializing in Israeli immigration law, who can provide legal assistance and facilitate the process.
How can we regulate the status of a foreign spouse’s minor children?
In many cases, the foreign spouses wishing to obtain an Israeli citizenship have minor children in their custody, who have a different citizenship. Moving minors between countries is, by nature, a more complex process, both emotionally and socially, compared with adults.
One frequent issue in this type of situation is that the minor children have another biological parent, so that authorities are wary about the children’s physical removal from their presence.
The Israeli law recognizes these difficulties, and therefore special rules have been established regarding the regulation of the status of minors, who arrive alongside parents wishing to live in Israel with Israeli spouses.
The procedures concerning the status regulation of foreign spouses include a preliminary requirement with respect to any minors living with them. According to this requirement, the authorities must accept the position of the biological parent living abroad with respect to the status regulation and the obtainment of citizenship for their minor children who have moved to Israel.
The other parent’s consent must be provided in writing. In the event that the other parent opposes this, this might hinder, and sometimes even bar, the possibility to regulate the status of foreign spouses’ minor children.
In cases where the other parent’s position cannot be obtained by the foreign spouse, the procedure instructs that the Ministry of Interior must contact the parent directly with the purpose of obtaining their official position.
In these cases, contact will be made by sending letters to their address. If the other parent is deceased, then an official death certificate must be presented, including an official translation of the certificate (in case of need) and certification in accordance with the law.
There is an additional requirement with respect to minors who are over the age of 15, besides the requirements noted above, which is the presentation of evidence that the minors have been under the custody of the foreign spouse for at least two years prior to the application’s submission.
This includes both evidence that the minors are legally in their parent’s custody (such as a marriage agreement or a court ruling which expressly stipulates this), and evidence that the minors are in their parents’ custody in actuality.
In all cases, the application to regulate the minors’ status must be attached with their foreign passport, which must be valid for at least two years, as well as an original birth certificate, certified and translated (in case of need).
Can converted Jews (Gerim) move to Israel?
Upon Israel’s establishment, the state authorities have decided to make all Jews eligible to immigrate to Israel. According to Section 1 of the Law of Return, every Jew is eligible to immigrate to Israel and receive an Israeli citizenship.
This law allows for recognition of persons who converted to Judaism as eligible to receive a citizenship; however, for this purpose, they must comply with various criteria. It’s important to know that the conversion process itself may be long and complex, but recognition of the conversion, for purposes of obtaining a citizenship, might also involve a legal battle.
The procedures established by the Israeli authorities for the purpose of recognizing conversion require proof that this conversion was indeed performed out of an honest wish to become Jewish, and not just to obtain an Israeli citizenship.
Those wishing to immigrate to Israel, and to obtain a citizenship following conversion, are required to prove that they performed the conversion process in a Jewish community recognized by the State of Israel.
They must be a member of the Jewish community for at least nine months prior to their conversion, and likewise continue to be active in the community for at least nine months after the conversion has been approved.
Various documents must be presented to the Israeli authorities in order to recognize conversion. These documents include a conversion certificate duly signed by a recognized rabbinical court; a declaratory letter of the converted person, describing their involvement in the Jewish community, and the reasons that led them to convert in the first place; an official letter from the leader of the Jewish community or the rabbinical court that accepted the converted person, detailing the process they had undergone, including how long the process took, the preparations for conversion, and the Jewish studies undertaken; and another official letter from the community leader, detailing the involvement of the converted person in the Jewish community following the conversion.
As you can see, this process can be quite cumbersome and complex. This track is intended for those who are truly interested in converting into Judaism and thereby to make aliyah. It should be noted that despite various attempts to equalize the legal status of conservative and reform Jews with that of Orthodox Jews, there is still a tendency to prioritize those who have converted to Orthodox Judaism.
Alongside this, converted Jews may experience additional difficulties in regulating their status, regardless of their religious movement affinity. You can find additional and detailed information on this subject in this article, published on our law firm’s website.
Permanent residency in Israel – an additional alternative track for non-Jews to obtain an Israeli citizenship
Alongside the naturalization tracks detailed above, in many cases, it is also possible to obtain a permanent residency status in Israel. This status is almost identical in value to that of Israeli citizenship. The main differences compared with a citizenship is that permanent residents are not eligible to receive an Israeli passport or to vote in Knesset elections.
In addition, this status may be revoked in cases of an elongated stay abroad. A permanent residency status may be relevant to the foreign partners of Israeli citizens and permanent residents, as an alternative to obtaining an Israeli citizenship.
This track is recommended to foreign spouses whose country of origin does not permit dual citizenship, and who do not wish to renounce their other citizenship.
In addition, this status may be relevant in cases of parents of Israeli soldiers, or lone elderly parents of Israeli citizens. In such cases, the State of Israel allows the obtainment of status in Israel for humanitarian reasons, to unite Israelis with their parents who live alone overseas.
This involves a process that takes several years, and requires the obtainment of temporary residency status in Israel prior to obtaining a permanent residency status.
Permanent residency may also be relevant to Palestinians and foreign citizens, who might be granted this status for humanitarian reasons. The law allows the Minister of Interior to grant permanent residency status (and in certain cases, even an Israeli citizenship) in exceptional cases.
This includes cases where this constitutes a special interest for the State of Israel, or when concerning Palestinian residents acting in advancement of the State of Israel’s security, the state’s economy, or any other important state matter.
Alongside the above, asylum seekers may also receive permanent status, in rare situations, for humanitarian reasons. The state would tend to set many bureaucratic difficulties with respect to the obtainment of an official status in Israel for such foreign citizens.
Moving to Israel without making Aliyah? Contact us – We specialize in Israeli immigration law
In this article, we have provided details about the various tracks for non-Jews to obtain an Israeli citizenship, or for Jews and those eligible according to the law of return who wish to move to Israel but not make Aliyah.
Alongside these tracks, there are also additional specific cases where one might obtain a permanent residency status or a citizenship. If you need any advice, eligibility check, or assistance with any issue concerning this subject, you are invited to contact a lawyer from our law firm, specializing in Israeli immigration law.
Our law firm offers the services of lawyers specializing in the regulation of foreign citizens’ status, and in naturalization processes in Israel for couples, spouses, and foreign citizens with an Israeli affiliation.