Residency and Citizenship

Those born to parents who are Israeli citizens automatically receive Israeli citizenship and all the rights incorporated eo ipso therein, primarily the right to reside in Israel and be legally employed therein. Other people, who are citizens of foreign countries but who wish to live in Israel are entitled to do so under certain conditions. In cases where they attain the legal right to stay in Israel, temporarily or permanently, they nevertheless usually face considerable bureaucratic hurdles that the Ministry of the Interior places for those wishing to realize that right.

Who are the foreign citizens entitled to live in Israel?

Persons who draw that right from the Law of Return: Jews, as well as the children and grandchildren of Jews (even if they are not considered to be Jewish according to strict Jewish law), are entitled to immigrate to Israel and receive citizenship therein. Problems may arise when, for example, a person finds it difficult to prove that he/she or his/her ancestors are Jewish, or when the state refuses to recognize conversion.

The spouses of Israeli citizens and residents: Every Israeli citizen and resident is entitled to choose his or her spouse as he or she see fit, and their spouse – who is a citizen of another country – Is entitled to live with him/her in Israel. For this purpose, the couple should prove the sincerity of the relationship between them, and that the center of their lives in Israel. At the end of a process which lasts several years, the foreign spouse can obtain citizenship in Israel. The Ministry of the Interior does nothing to ease the process, and it is advisable that the couple be prepared for that and receive appropriate counsel even before the first application to the Ministry of the Interior, in order to prevent mishaps and refusals.

Foreign workers and experts: In some cases, foreign nationals with certain required professions come to Israel to practice them therein. Their stay permit is limited to a particular occupation. This usually applies to the professions of nursing and employees for the sectors of agriculture and building. An employer who wishes to employ a foreign worker is required to obtain a special permit from the Population and Immigration Authority, and he has subject to various obligations under the Foreign Workers Law. Furthermore, an employer wishes to employ an expert foreign worker, is expected to comply with further designated conditions. The Ministry of the Interior has the power to refuse an employer’s request for a permit if the later fails to comply with such conditions. The Ministry of the Interior may further refuse to renew a work permit for a specific worker if that employee, sometimes without his fault, has not renewed the residence permit of that employee in time.

Humanitarian cases: Sometimes, foreign nationals who have lived in Israel for a number of years (a long or a short period of time) and have established therein their center of life, are nevertheless asked to leave the country, since there is no provision in the law allowing them to remain in Israel. This being the case despite the fact that it entails a most difficult separation from everything familiar to them, and sometimes while deporting them to a country where they have no relatives and acquaintances whatever, no possibility to conduct normal life, or while forcing them to part with their relatives in Israel. In such cases, it is possible to apply for special status in Israel on the grounds of exceptional humanitarian reasons. It is important to present the case in a correct and detailed manner, since the Population and Immigration Authority must be persuaded that it is presented with an extreme case that justifies deviation from the ordinary rules, in order to prevent serious damage to the applicant in case he leaves Israel.

Refugees: A refugee is a person who escaped from danger in his country of origin, is unable, for those very reasons, to return there, and therefore seeks protection (refuge) in Israel. There are two populations of refugees in Israel: the first group consists of citizens of countries all of whose citizens were recognized by the State of Israel to be in danger, such as Eritrea, Sudan and the Ivory Coast. The second group consists of citizens of any possible country, their return to which is dangerous because of some peril which awaits them there: either from the regime or from other people. Proving identity or the danger asylum seekers might face in their country of origin is not simple, and often requires the intervention of the courts in the decision of the Ministry of the Interior.

Additional entitlements: There are further cases in which foreign citizens may receive permission to stay in Israel for long periods of time: as students, as volunteers in various organizations, and in certain positions in religious institutions such as churches.