Authenticating documents issued by the former Soviet Union (legal information)
Can documents from the former Soviet republics be officially authenticated? If so, how? There is a legal difficulty in obtaining an apostille for official certificates issued during the time of the Soviet Union. The main solution today is to issue a restored copy of the required certificates, which can generally be authenticated, so that the document may be presented to the authorities in Israel or foreign countries. Below, attorney Michael Decker, a notary and partner in our office, will explain the process and the legal options available regarding authentication of USSR documents.
When is authentication required for documents from the former Soviet Union?
According to official data, more than 850,000 expatriates from the former Soviet Union live in Israel. They or their relatives may sometimes be required, as part of various procedures, to produce documents that were issued during the Soviet Union’s existence. These documents may include a birth certificate, marriage certificate, divorce certificate, death certificate, name change certificate, etc. The procedures in which these documents are required may relate to immigration to Israel (such as obtaining personal legal status, obtaining status for foreign spouses or immigration of family members, such as minors or elderly and solitary parents) and sometimes immigration abroad or other bureaucratic procedures with authorities in Israel. The original documents from the Soviet Union are not always available, especially not documents duly certified by the Israeli authorities. This raises a particular difficulty, since under current legal conditions in the Russian Federation, requests for authentication of USSR documents may be refused. Below we will explain what can still be done in such cases.
What is the legal situation in Russia today regarding the authentication of USSR documents?
Russia joined the Hague (Apostille) Convention in 1992. This convention deals with the authentication of documents using the modern method, and is signed by most countries of the world, including Israel. However, unlike Israel, where there only a few official authorities dealing with document authentication and issuing an apostille stamp on official government documents (the main authorities are the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem and some of the courts), in Russia there are close to 30 different official offices where document authentication can be done. These offices operated back in the days of the Soviet Union and underwent changes over the years, in terms of regional affiliation in Russia. In some cases, there has even been a change in the state affiliation of these offices, because the dissolution of the Soviet Union led to a situation in which some of the offices that used to be on its territory are now located in territories under jurisdiction of other countries (that is, outside the borders of today’s Russia).
One of the main problems with performing an apostille authentication for official documents issued in the Soviet Union arises because a key condition under the Hague Convention is that the documents must state the name of the government official who issued the document and their official position. Birth certificates and other certificates issued in the former Soviet Union often do not include the name of the official who issued them. Accordingly, in many cases the documents do not meet the conditions of the Hague Convention, and accordingly, the authorities in Russia today may refuse to authenticate them with an apostille stamp.
How might issuing a restored version of the document be a solution to the issue?
One possible solution is to obtain a restored version of the document from the official office in the relevant Russian district. Since a restored version will be considered a certificate issued in Russia, based on the modern conditions for document authentication, this will allow authentication with an apostille stamp on this version of the document. However, it is important to know that a restored version of a certificate may sometimes cause legal difficulties regarding the acceptance of the document by the Israeli authorities. For example, a Ministry of the Interior protocol on the subject (which, as of the time of writing these lines, was last updated in August 2022) states that if a certificate was issued at a later date than the date of the event it testifies to, the submitters of the document will be required to explain the time gap. If the explanation does not convince the Ministry official, they may refuse to accept the document.
In cases where the Israeli authorities refuse to accept the restored and authenticated version, it may be necessary to appeal the refusal decision, either through an internal appeal to the Ministry of the Interior, or through filing an appeal at the Appellate Court or a petition in court. Beyond that, the very procedure of issuing a restored version of an official certificate in Russia may raise various difficulties from a bureaucratic point of view. Our office works together with a leading office operating in Russia, in order to provide optimal, comprehensive legal services regarding the handling of the authentication of documents in such cases.
Are there other solutions regarding the authentication of official documents issued by the former Soviet Union?
Another solution is to present the original document, without an apostille. It is possible that in some cases the intervention of an attorney specializing in immigration law could enable someone to reach an understanding with the authorities or find alternative solutions. For example, there are cases in which representatives of Nativ (a division of the Prime Minister’s Office responsible for contact with the Jews of the former Soviet Union) are asked by the authorities to examine the authenticity of documents originating from the former Soviet Union, based on their professional experience. Other solutions may also be found in individual cases of difficulty in authenticating specific documents.
Contact an attorney and notary specializing in Israeli immigration law and authentication of official documents
In this article we have explained the difficulty in cases of the need to verify documents issued in the former Soviet republics. If you have any additional questions or need assistance on the matter, you can contact an attorney specializing in immigration law from our office and we will be glad to help. Our office, in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, regularly deals with various procedures related to immigration to Israel, including obtaining legal status for foreign spouses and family members, work visas in Israel, humanitarian issues and applications for permanent residence or citizenship.