The Entry into Israel Law and Obtaining Israeli Legal Status for Foreign Citizens
The State of Israel has very few laws regarding entry and immigration. The Entry into Israel Law may not be the most prominent or publicized among these, but it is the most influential, as it regulates the entry into Israel of any foreign citizen who does not have an immigration visa for olim (new immigrants under the Law of Return). But what does the law actually say? Which foreign citizens are eligible to apply for which types of visitor visa or stay visa in Israel?
In this article, attorney Joshua Pex, a founding partner of our firm who heads our department for immigration to Israel, explains the minutiae of the Entry into Israel Law, including the various types of Israeli legal status that foreign citizens may obtain. You can find an abundance of additional information on immigration to Israel in our list of articles on the topic, which is continually updated.
DOES ISRAEL HAVE AN IMMIGRATION POLICY?
Before we delve into the Entry into Israel Law and the various options that it offers for foreign citizens who wish to transit through Israel, visit there, or live there, we will discuss the question: Does Israel have an immigration policy? We oftentimes hear that Israel has no such policy; however, this belief stems from a certain misunderstanding, since Israel certainly shows who is a more preferred and who is a less preferred immigrant: as the nation state of the Jewish people, Israel prefers immigrants who are eligible to come under the Law of Return, namely: Jews, children of Jewish fathers, grandchildren of Jews, and their spouses—who, according to the Israeli policy, are eligible to receive an oleh (singular of olim) visa and Israeli citizenship as soon as they set foot in the country. In addition, new immigrants under the Law of Return receive many benefits. However, it should be noted that the new governmental coalition is considering to cancel the “grandchild section” in the Law of Return and thereby prevent grandchildren of Jews from immigrating to Israel under this law.
Besides the Law of Return and the Entry into Israel Law, which are discussed in this article, another main law relating to immigration in Israel is the Citizenship Law, 5712–1952, which stipulates four additional ways to obtain Israeli citizenship besides by birth or under the Law of Return.
In the case of other immigrants, who are not eligible to come to Israel under the Law of Return, such as migrant workers or spouses of Israeli citizens—the process is longer, more difficult, and more expensive—and the State of Israel shows through its policy that it is usually less interested in these immigrants. Additionally, due to the political strife in the Israeli society, the government has difficulty passing immigration laws. This vacuum is filled by the courts: the appeals courts, the regional courts, and, mostly, the Supreme Court, which all issue significant decisions and rulings regarding immigration to Israel. One example of this is a ruling according to which non-orthodox conversions to Judaism are legal. Also, the Minister of Interior, who is the governmental authority concerning immigration, issues regulations and publicizes various procedures regarding immigration—which is naturally easier to do, to change and to correct in accordance with the changing practical needs.
WHAT DOES THE ENTRY INTO ISRAEL LAW SAY ABOUT ENTERING ISRAEL AND STAYING THERE?
Section 1(a) of the Entry into Israel Law, 5712–1952, states that anyone who is not an Israeli citizen shall enter Israel with an ‘oleh’ visa or a visa based on this law, while Section 1(b) states that anyone who is not an Israeli citizen and does not have an ‘oleh’ visa or an ‘oleh’ certificate may reside in Israel with a stay permit under this law. According to Section 2 of the law, the authority for granting visas and permits under the Entry into Israel Law is the Minister of Interior. According to Section 4 of the Entry into Israel Law: the Minister of Interior may exchange a short-term stay permit with a long-term stay permit, or with a permanent stay permit (the Israeli status that indicates the strongest connection to Israel short of Israeli citizenship).
While an entry visa is required to enter Israel legally, a stay permit is required to legally reside in Israel. Below we explain about the four types of Israeli legal status that are stipulated in the Entry into Israel Law, from the weakest to the strongest regarding the holder’s connection to the State of Israel.
The four types of legal status detailed below require different types of visas depending on which population the applicant belongs to and the specifics of each case: for example, a temporary stay permit allows the holder, inter alia, to receive an A1 visa for eligible immigrants under the Law of Return who wish to consider the option of living in Israel before making a final choice, an A2 visa for students who come to study at academic institutions in Israel, and an A3 visa for clergy. You can read all about this and more in a separate article titled “Types of Residence Visas in Israel: The Complete Guide”.
WHEN IS A TRANSIT PERMIT NEEDED AND FOR HOW LONG IS IT VALID?
Out of the four types of legal status stipulated in the Entry into Israel Law, transit indicates the weakest connection to the State of Israel. A transit visa, as the name implies, allows the holder to travel in transit through the state en route to another country. According to Section 2(1) of the Entry into Israel Law, the Minister of Interior may grant a visa and permit for transit that is valid for up to five days, and, according to Section 3 of the Law, the Minister may extend the validity of the permit up to a total period of ten days.
WHEN IS A VISITOR PERMIT NEEDED AND FOR HOW LONG IS IT VALID?
The next type of legal status is that of a visitor. A visitor visa allows foreign citizens to visit in the country. A “tourist visa” usually refers to this type. According to Section 2(2) of the Entry into Israel Law, the Minister of Interior may grant a visa and permit to visit that is valid for up to three months, and, according to Section 3 of the law, the Minister may extend the validity of the visitor permit to a period of up to two years—however, the applicant must prove the existence of special circumstances, such as a special medical condition, family needs, or special events.
WHEN IS A TEMPORARY STAY PERMIT NEEDED AND FOR HOW LONG IS IT VALID?
A temporary stay visa allows temporary residence in the state for a person who is not an Israeli citizen or permanent resident. The general type of temporary stay visa is the A5 visa, and there are also more specific types of temporary stay visa, as mentioned above. According to Section 2(4) of the Entry into Israel Law, the Minister of Interior may grant a visa and permit for temporary stay that is valid for up to three years, and, according to Section 3 the Minister may extend the validity of the visa as long as each extension period is no longer than two years. A person staying in the country as a temporary resident is eligible to receive a temporary ID card, work in Israel, and enjoy social security rights like any Israeli citizen. However, a temporary resident is not eligible to vote in the Knesset elections (or be elected to the Knesset) or to receive an Israeli passport.
WHEN IS A PERMANENT STAY PERMIT NEEDED AND FOR HOW LONG IS IT VALID?
Permanent residency status, which is just short of citizenship, indicates the strongest possible connection of a foreign citizen to the State of Israel. A permanent stay visa allows the holder to live in Israel with no time limit. According to Section 2(4) of the Entry into Israel Law, the Minister of Interior may grant a visa and permit to stay in Israel permanently. Of course, unlike the other three types of permits mentioned above, this permit is unlimited in time. Permanent residents are generally eligible for all the rights of Israeli citizens, except for the right to an Israeli passport and the right to participate and vote in the Knesset elections.
LEGAL ADVICE REGARDING IMMIGRATION TO ISRAEL—CONTACT US
In this article, attorney Joshua Pex explained about one of the topics that a lawyer specializing in immigration to Israel deals with: the various types of Israeli legal status that a foreign citizen who is not a citizen of Israel may receive. If you have any further questions on this topic or need any assistance regarding immigration to Israel, a lawyer from our firm who specializes in immigration to Israel will be happy to help. Our firm, which has offices in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, has extensive proven experience in representing clients, regarding immigration to Israel, vis-à-vis the Ministry of Interior and the courts. For any question regarding immigration and acquisition of legal status in Israel, you are welcome to contact a lawyer from our offices via the phone numbers or email address listed below.