What is the gradual process for obtaining legal status for foreign spouses in Israel and which visas are granted in this process?
Filing a joint-life application is the first step in obtaining legal status for a foreign spouse in Israel. Following this step, an extended procedure begins, lasting 5-7 years or more. At the end of the process, the foreign spouse can receive Israeli citizenship or permanent residence status. This procedure for obtaining legal status in Israel is known as “the gradual process” and has several stages. At the end of each stage the foreign spouse’s visa is upgraded. In this article, attorney Tal Ofir, a specialist in immigration to Israel, presents important legal information about the gradual process, in all its stages.
The Cohen, Decker, Pex and Brosh law offices in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv specialize in Israeli immigration law. Our firm has extensive experience in accompanying couples through the stages of obtaining legal status for foreign spouses, including the gradual process, and representing them before judicial and administrative courts.
Stages of the gradual process and visas granted at each stage
Before embarking on the gradual process, it is important to note that the Citizenship Law and the Entrance to Israel Law differentiate between a citizenship track for married couples and a track for common-law couples. The Population and Immigration Authority has set different regulations for each track. The protocol for common-law couples determines a 7 year long gradual procedure. The regulation applied to married couples, on the other hand, determines a 5 year long gradual process. That being said, in some cases the procedure through the common-law track may be shortened; for instance, in the case of same-sex couples.
After an initial clarification that the prerequisites are fulfilled, and making sure the prerequisite documents are submitted in their entirety, the foreign spouse will receive a 6-month residence permit, including a work permit (a B-1 permit to reside and work in Israel). In the case of a couple seeking to immigrate with their minor children, the children will be awarded dependent visas – contingent, of course, on them meeting the prerequisites. If the underage children are from a previous relationship of the foreign spouse, additional procedures are required to arrange their legal status, which we have described in detail in another article published on our website.
Ministry of Interior reviews of the gradual process
In the next stage, after the foreign spouse is granted a residency and work permit, the gradual process actually begins. The couple is required to submit proof of the three prerequisites for beginning the gradual process: absence of a criminal or security hindrance, joint center of life in Israel, and sincerity of the spousal relationship (based on the relationship sincerity interview). If these conditions are met, the foreign spouse will be granted a visa for temporary residence in Israel. This visa is valid for up to three years, and can be extended.
3 months before 4 years from receiving the residence visa have passed, the couple will be required to come to the Interior Ministry and declare which status the foreign spouse is seeking – permanent residence or citizenship. At this stage an renewed inquiry will be made regarding the sincerity of the relationship and the fulfillment of the other conditions necessary for the process. If permanent residence is requested, the application will be dealt with according to the applicable regulation. If citizenship is requested, it will be dealt with according to the applicable regulation for that case. However, unlike other applicants for citizenship, the foreign spouse will be exempt from forfeiting his or her other citizenship, and will not be required to be proficient in the Hebrew language.
Stages of the gradual process for common-law couples and visas granted at each stage
As stated, the gradual process for common-law couples is longer than for married couples. In the first 3 years, the foreign spouse will be granted a work visa. After that, they will be granted a visa for temporary residence in Israel for one year. This visa can be extended each year, for 4 additional years. Annual inquiries will be held to ensure that the couple is upholding the conditions set out in the Interior Ministry regulations. This inquiry includes an interview with each spouse and a re-examination of the sincerity of the relationship.
At the end of the 7 years (3 on a work visa and 4 on a temporary residence visa), the foreign spouse can apply for a permanent Israeli residence permit, according to the applicable regulation. Once the permanent residence permit is obtained, the spouse can apply for citizenship. Note, however, that the Interior Ministry has the authority to extend the gradual process for additional time, totaling up to 3 years.
Contact an attorney who specializes in immigration to Israel
As we have explained above, the gradual process for obtaining legal status for a foreign spouse is long and complicated. The couple is required to meet strict conditions set by the Interior Ministry, in order to receive the coveted citizenship. Assistance from an attorney who specializes in immigration law will help make the process more efficient and maximize the chances of success. Cohen, Decker, Pex and Brosh law offices have extensive professional experience in handling legal status applications for many couples. We will be glad to help with any questions or issues related to this topic.