How can Russian citizens obtain asylum in Israel?
Can Russians apply for asylum in Israel? Since Russia is currently persecuting its citizens who express opposition to the war, to corruption, and to Putin’s regime, it is without doubt possible to seek asylum in Israel for Russians on the grounds of political persecution. At present, the complicated part is most likely reaching Israeli soil from Russia. Even someone who was refused entrance to Israel at the airport due to suspicion that they planned to seek asylum can appeal their deportation back to Russia.
Our legal offices specialize in entrance to Israel, visas, emigration, and applications for asylum. In previous articles we explained the issue of entering Israel and seeking asylum for Ukrainian refugees fleeing the Russian invasion. If you (or a friend, family member, or acquaintance) are being persecuted in Russia on the grounds of political views, religion, origin, sexual preference, etc., we will be happy to help you obtain legal status in Israel, even if you were stopped from entering Israel at the border.
Why can Russians now obtain asylum in Israel?
After many citizens of the former Soviet Union entered Israel and applied for political asylum in the country, from 2013 on, an expedited application handling process was instituted for Russians, Ukrainians, and Georgians. The Israeli Interior Ministry operated on the assumption that most of these asylum seekers were lying – that they faced no real threat to their lives, that they did not need to seek asylum outside their country of origin, and that they were primarily economic immigrants, coming to Israel in order to work here.
Russian citizens who claimed persecution by the Russian authorities for corrupt economic motives – filing criminal charges in order to take control of the victim’s business or capital – did not fit the literal definition of a Russian refugee in the pacts to which Israel is a signatory. Even someone who was persecuted after exposing the authorities’ corruption was not thought to fit this definition.
Now, however, after Russia invaded Ukraine and Putin’s regime has given up any pretense of maintaining free speech or democracy, it is clear that any Russian citizen who criticizes the regime is endangering his freedom of movement, health, and life.
Political persecution in Russia today
At present, Russian citizens can be arrested not only for demonstrating with messages opposing the regime/the war in Ukraine (or messages that could be thus interpreted), but even for expressing protest on social media. Protesters with signs bearing “*** *****” (“No to War” in Russian in the “censored” version), signs with no writing at all, or “Stop fascism” signs were arrested for opposing the regime, insulting the Russian army, and fomenting ethnic hatred (the Russian court is indifferent to the irony of arresting protesters bearing generic anti-fascist signs as offending the Russian armed forces and a war started in the name of “de-nazifiying” Ukraine). Even people who expressed “silent support” for a demonstration they were not participating in have been arrested.
The Russian “Fake News Law” allows for the fining, arresting, and imprisoning anyone who publishes facts on the war in the Ukraine which insult the Russian armed forces, or which do not fit the official version of the Russian Ministry of Defense (or the most current version, given that explanations for the various atrocities and the motivations of the “Special Operation” change on a daily basis). People are arrested on the street (thanks to security cameras and face recognition software) or in their homes. Some are warned not to continue anti-governmental activity, while others are arrested directly. After decades of erosion of judicial independence in Russia, the courts practically never find an accused person to be innocent, especially if that person is accused of political crimes.
In this situation, there is no doubt that any Russian citizen who criticizes or publishes the truth regarding the regime or the war is risking his freedom and his life. If there is anything positive about this, it is that the person can thus prove his eligibility to seek refuge in Israel without the quantity of documents usually required that prove arrest, interrogation, threats, etc.
Options of immigration, aliyah, and asylum in Israel for Russians
Of course there are many Jews and people of Jewish extraction in Russia, as well as relatives of Israeli citizens who are not themselves eligible for aliyah, and opponents of the regime who have no direct connection to Israel. People in each one of these categories have a different way to come to Israel.
Expedited aliyah for Russians
Jews or those of Jewish extraction can in fact “pack their suitcases” and arrive in Tel Aviv the next day, whether directly from Russia or from a neighboring country. The main problem is leaving Russian territory, since the Russian border patrol now checks those leaving for neighboring countries via land border crossings, as well as those leaving the airport for destinations farther away. Among other things, the officials may check correspondence by Whatsapp, Telegram, and social media, as well as the personal details and profession of the person seeking to go abroad.
We have not yet returned to the bad old days of the Soviet Union, and opponents of the regime who do not have an exit restraint order, or those in “required” professions which Russia needs, are still relatively free to cross the Iron Curtain. It is reasonable to assume, however, that this situation is likely to change in the course of the coming year.
On the other hand, after arriving in Israel, those eligible for aliyah are welcomed with open arms and lenient conditions. Israel is currently enabling an expedited aliyah process for those eligible for aliyah from Russia and Ukraine. The Interior Ministry is waiving the requirement to present an apostille stamp on certain documents. If someone applying for aliyah arrives in Israel without any of the documents required to prove eligibility, Nativ staff can help them to prove it.
Seeking asylum for Russians
However, most Russian citizens who would like to find asylum in Israel are not eligible for aliyah. These are people distressed by the current situation who got on a plane leaving Russia or, if they could not find a direct flight out of Russia, left via one of the neighboring countries. Some of them are already in Israel, with a tourist visa or foreign worker status. There are even some, like the political commentator Alexander Navzorov, who found out only after they reached the Holy Land that political persecution had been initiated against them in response to remarks they had made against the war and the Russian army.
Unlike Ukrainians, who have a specific invitation process and a simpler process of obtaining refugee status, Russian citizens are still required to submit a formal application for asylum in Israel. Two points deserve emphasis:
- A formal application for asylum indeed includes proof that the person is being persecuted in some way on the basis of political beliefs, race, religion, citizenship, or sexual preference. Any document concerning an interview, arrest, preventative measures, filing of a criminal complaint, etc. by the Russian authorities can serve as a starting point for submitting an application for asylum.
- The airport, or any other point of entrance into Israel, is considered by the immigration authorities as a gateway where they are authorized to prevent entrance to Israel. In practice, border control officials are likely to refuse entrance to anyone whom they suspect is planning to apply for refugee status in Israel, and deport him back to his country of origin. The application for asylum is formally submitted only after entering Israel.
What happens to an asylum seeker who is refused entrance to Israel?
He can still appeal the refusal to grant him entrance. According to the court’s instructions, those refused entrance cannot be deported within 48 hours of their arrive at the border crossing, before they have had the chance to speak with an attorney and actualize their right to plead against the refusal. An asylum seeker from Russia or Ukraine must be notified of this right in their language (Russian or Ukrainian).
Asylum seekers coming directly from Russia, unlike those coming from Poland, Romania, or even Uzbekistan, can claim that deportation back to their country of origin would endanger their lives and is therefore impossible.
What about tourists and foreign workers from Russia who are currently in Israel?
For Ukrainian citizens in Israel, their visa is automatically extended, and it is likely that the Interior Ministry will continue to extend it until the end of the war. In contrast, Russians who are currently in Israel and are afraid to return to the Russian Federation must extend their current visa or apply for asylum.
On the one hand, applying for asylum or appealing a rejected application for asylum is easier for someone who is located in Israel, since the authorities are required to at least evaluate each application or appeal on its own merits. In the worst case, the process of deporting someone who is residing in Israel without a visa or legal status is still much longer and more complex than refusal of entry at the border.
On the other hand, it is more difficult to prove that someone residing in Israel is being persecuted or expects to be persecuted by the authorities on the basis of his political opinions or other reasons. Law enforcement authorities generally wait until a person returns to Russian territory before initiating persecution. Even if criminal proceedings are initiated against a defendant who is located in Israel, it is necessary to find documents proving this, have them translated, and present them to the Israeli authorities.
A green light for refugees from Russia and Ukraine who are employed in hi-tech
A new initiative of the Population and Immigration Authority will enable hi-tech companies to obtain work visas for refugees from Ukraine and Russia within 4 days. These work visas for refugees will be valid for 90 days, and can be renewed. If the refugee plans to reside in Israel for more than 90 days, family members who accompanied him to Israel can also obtain work visas. There are an estimated 20-25 thousand Ukrainians alone who were employed by the Israeli hi-tech industry in Ukraine, and can come to Israel, not to mention the other Ukrainian and Russian hi-techers who can currently find work in Israel.
News reports on this issue emphasize that this track is open both to those eligible for aliyah and to those who are not. It is reasonable to assume that most of the workers in this track will not be Jews or those eligible for aliyah, since those would choose to undergo full aliyah or, if they did not want Israeli citizenship or residency, would prefer to get a 1A visa which would allow them to live and work in Israel for several years.
Contact an attorney who deals with applications for asylum
If you need help in applying for asylum or are have been refused entry to the country – for you, a friend, or a relative – our experienced staff of attorneys are at your service. We will be happy to provide assistance for any issue related to aliyah, immigration, entrance to Israel or legal status in Israel. Contact us to arrange a consultation at our offices in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, or a meeting on Zoom/Whatsapp/Skype.