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Entry visa to Israel – everything you need to know

Joshua Pex
Joshua Pex

When does a visitor to Israel need to arrange a tourist visa ahead of time? In recent years, Israel has become a particularly attractive destination for tourists from all over the world. The comfortable weather, the many religious and cultural attractions, and the beaches draw individual tourists, couples, families and groups for touring and vacationing in Israel. It is important to know that it is sometimes necessary to apply for a visa in order to enter Israel. This is true for the citizens of certain countries, but also for specific, individual cases. In this article, Joshua Pex, partner in our firm and an expert in laws pertaining to immigrating to and entering Israel, explains what you need to know regarding entry visas.

Our firm, with offices in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, has attorneys specializing in Israeli immigration law. Attorneys from our firm regularly represent individual and business clients who are citizens of foreign countries seeking to enter Israel and stay in the country for purposes of tourism, business, etc. Our office has extensive experience in representing foreign citizens in processes of arranging Israeli legal status before the Population and Immigration Authority of the Ministry of the Interior, as well as the courts.

Foreign citizens who want to visit Israel but not work or settle in the country need a tourist visa – an entry visa to Israel called “B2”. Citizens of countries that have signed a “visa exemption” agreement with Israel receive these visas upon entering the country; citizens of all other countries are required to obtain an entry visa in advance at the Israeli embassy or consulate abroad. In any case, everyone who enters Israel must comply with the visa regulations, particularly regarding its period of validity.

So, how do citizens of the world get entry visas to Israel, what happens if the visa application is rejected, and how can Israelis help relatives, friends, and spouses to reach the Holy Land? In this article, Joshua Pex, an Israeli immigration lawyer who specializes in obtaining various Israeli visas, explains how to obtain entry visas to Israel.

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Do citizens of countries “exempt” from visas need an entry visa to Israel?

The State of Israel has signed a “visa exemption” agreement with the United States, as well as many countries in Europe and the First World. These agreements do not actually “exempt” citizens of these countries from entry visas to Israel, and especially not from the requirement for visas if they want to do anything more than make a short visit to Israel. However, citizens of these countries do not have to obtain a visa in advance before visiting Israel. Instead of going through the bureaucratic procedure described below for citizens of non-exempt countries, through the Israeli representation in their country of residence, citizens of exempt countries receive the entry visa upon entering Israel, after passing through border control, usually at Ben Gurion Airport. However, any citizens of the exempt countries who have encountered problems with the Israeli immigration authorities in the past are not included in this exemption; they are required to obtain permission to enter Israel in advance, before arriving in the country, otherwise they may find themselves denied entry to Israel.

However, it is important to note that even for “exempt” foreign citizens, the procedure for obtaining the visa is not merely formal, nor is it automatic. Border control officials verify, on the basis of a conversation with the visitors and monitoring of their responses, both verbal as well as body language and facial expressions, that their only intention is to visit Israel. If a suspicion arises that the visitor intends to harm the security of the State of Israel, settle/work in Israel illegally, or has a partner in Israel, the visitor will undergo thorough questioning. It is possible that a suspicious visitor will be issued a visa for a very short period – the maximum duration of a B2 visa is 90 days, and it is important to check the expiration date of the visa when receiving it, in order not to exceed the specified date. On the other hand, in certain cases it is also possible that a suspicious visitor will be denied entry to Israel and deported back to their country of origin.

How do most foreign citizens get entry visas to Israel?

Most countries of the world have not signed a visa exemption agreement with Israel. Accordingly, citizens of these countries must obtain an entry visa to Israel from the nearest Israeli embassy or representative office. The embassy employees are also required to make sure that the visitor is not seeking to work in Israel illegally, harm the Israeli public or stay longer than the visa allows. However, since the visitor is not standing at Israel’s border, the bureaucracy has time to ensure that it has all the necessary information.

On the one hand, this means that the procedure for obtaining an Israeli entry visa at the embassy is not a matter of a few minutes, as it is when done by border control. On the other hand, even if the application for an Israeli tourist visa is rejected, the visitor can resubmit it with additional documents without being considered to have been deported from Israel, losing the cost of the plane ticket, often being required to pay for the return flight as well, and spending hours or days in a detention facility before being deported. Another clear advantage is that those who have received an entry visa in advance through the Israeli consulate abroad will usually not be refused entry by border control officials upon arrival in Israel, except in very unusual cases.

What happens to those who are refused entry to Israel?

Whether the visitor is “deported”, “removed” or simply “denied entry”, and whether their passport is stamped accordingly or not, the refusal of entry is recorded in the border control system. After that, the visitor’s entry will be automatically denied for 5-10 years, and will be accepted with suspicion in the future as well. In fact, the specific classification of refusal of entry is relevant mainly to the internal bureaucracy of border control and to reassure the visitor (“not deportation, refusal of entry”); all types of refusal of entry have similar practical consequences.

What are the possible reasons for refusing entry to Israel?

We have written extensively on the subject of reasons for refusing entry to Israel in the past and we recommend that you read the relevant articles. It is important to emphasize that refusal of entry is based on the subjective “justified” suspicion of the border control team, and that the regulations do not require objective, unshakable proof.

Tourists arriving in Israel, who obviously aspire to enter without needless problems or difficulties, can reassure the border control officials by presenting a return flight ticket, an arranged visit plan with an end date, and information on contacts in Israel. Also, those who are afraid of more in-depth questioning can prepare documents in advance that indicate a center of life abroad, such as: residential property, work, car, studies, etc. As for Israelis receiving visitors from abroad, it is important to be available before the visitors’ arrival and to explain to the officials clearly and calmly that the newcomers do not intend to settle in Israel. If necessary, and in order to prevent the deportation of a suspicious tourist, it is possible to offer to deposit a bank guarantee to the Ministry of the Interior, which will not be returned to the depositor if the visitor stays in Israel beyond the expiration date of the visa.

Can even those who received a tourist visa in advance be refused entry to Israel?

Theoretically, this is absolutely possible. Practically speaking, and based on our office’s extensive experience dealing with people entering Israel, it is highly unlikely. Border control officials trust that the embassy employees have done their job faithfully, and unless the visitor behaves in an extremely inappropriate/suspicious manner, they will be allowed to enter Israel.

Is it possible to get a tourist visa in advance for citizens of “visa-exempt” countries?

Not exactly. However, it is indeed possible to contact the Ministry of the Interior in order to invite a person who was denied entry in the past or who you suspect may be denied entry. This is a relatively complicated bureaucratic procedure, partly because it is a Catch 22 for those whose entry was not refused – the very assumption of the inviter that the invitee’s entry may be refused leads to suspicion of the invitee. If the Interior Ministry officials suspect that the invitee may want to settle in Israel, they may refuse the invitation request or demand that the inviter deposit a bank guarantee to the Ministry.

Re-entry visa to Israel for foreign workers and asylum seekers

Unlike countries such as the USA, Israel does not issue entry visas that are valid for an extended period of time, where the visitor can leave Israel and then return on the same visa. As soon as a tourist, foreign worker, or asylum seeker leaves the borders of Israel, their entry visa expires. For every entry they are required to obtain a separate new entry visa. Tourists, who, for example, went to visit Jordan or Egypt and returned to Israel after a short time, may encounter difficulties in obtaining a new entry visa. Border control officials may make it difficult for any tourist to enter Israel repeatedly, on the grounds of suspected intention to settle, but may also turn a blind eye to the issue for citizens of countries that are exempt from visas.

For foreign workers and especially asylum seekers, this is a much more complicated matter. As soon as they set foot abroad, the foreign worker is considered as if their visa has expired, and the asylum seeker as having given up their request to find asylum in Israel. However, the State of Israel understands that foreign workers sometimes have a need to go abroad in order to visit their homeland, spend time with their family, etc., and then return to their workplace in Israel. Under these circumstances, foreign workers can apply for a re-entry visa to Israel (“inter-visa“), either a few months before departure, or even urgently a few days before.

Theoretically, the possibility of receiving an inter-visa is also open to asylum seekers in Israel, but in practice, obtaining the visa requires extraordinary circumstances — more than an important family event or treating a sick relative.

Is it possible to extend an entry visa to Israel?

A B2 visa can be extended beyond three months, or whatever initial expiration period was specified. In order to do this, one must contact the Population and Immigration Authority and prove special circumstances justifying the visitor’s stay in the country beyond the visa’s expiration date. The assistance of a lawyer specializing in immigration law may be necessary.

Entry visa to Israel for the spouse of an Israeli

Whether the spouses of Israelis are citizens of countries that are exempt from visas to Israel or not, in order to begin the gradual procedure for obtaining status in Israel for a spouse, the foreign spouse needs to receive an official invitation through the Ministry of the Interior – obtained from the branch of the Population and Immigration Authority closest to the inviter’s place of residence.

What is the problem if the couple comes to visit Israel without intending to start the procedure? Well, many couples are aware that the invitation procedure can take a long time and extensive dealings with the bureaucracy of the Ministry of the Interior, and therefore they prefer to start the procedure when the foreign spouse is already in Israel or arrives in Israel specifically for this purpose. As soon as the couple is together within the country’s borders, the Ministry of the Interior will usually not succeed in demanding that the foreigner leave Israel before the start of the procedure, especially if the couple is assisted by an expert lawyer. Of course, starting the procedure in Israel shortens the process, avoids some bureaucracy, and does not require that the couple be separated until the invitation is approved.

Accordingly, the primary assumption of Ministry of the Interior officials (including border control) is that many couples aim to skip the invitation procedure. Border control officials often suspect foreign spouses of Israelis who have come to visit Israel that they intend to settle in the country — that is, start the process of obtaining status after entering Israel — and so they refuse their entry. It also happens that Israelis who return with their spouses from popular marriage destinations abroad (Cyprus, Czech Republic, Georgia) announce this at the border control with joy and excitement… and begin the honeymoon with the spouse’s deportation from Israel.

Especially in order to prevent a humiliating refusal of entry that will complicate the spouse’s entry to Israel in the future, it is important to take special action to invite the foreign spouse of an Israeli for a tourist visit to Israel.

Conditions and Requirements for Implementing the Procedure to Grant a Tourist Visa to Israel (B/2 visa for the purpose of visiting Israel as a tourist)

The Israeli who wants to place the invitation for the foreign citizen must submit a request to order a tourist visa in the Ministry of Interior office in his/her area of residence in the following cases:

  • There is no Israeli embassy in the country of the guest who is a foreigner.
  • The application was rejected by the Israeli consular service abroad.
  • The invited foreigner resided in Israel illegally in the past.
  • In the event of humanitarian cases, when the foreigner who has been invited to Israel is disabled, retired and so on.
  • The foreign visitor is a relative of the Israeli who is requesting the tourist visa to Israel.
  • A foreign businessman who is invited to Israel for a short business visit to Israel.

Illegal Residence in Israel after Expiration of the Visa to Israel

Foreign citizens who previously resided in Israel illegally will be limited in receiving an Israeli tourist visa, as follows:

1) A foreign citizen who has been deported from Israel cannot come back for 10 years from the date of deportation from Israel.

2) A foreign citizen who has been denied entry to Israel cannot return to Israel for 10 years from the date of refusal of entrance to Israel.

3) Those who were in Israel illegally for over 30 days and up to one year after their Israeli visa expired may only apply for an entry visa to Israel two years after the departure date.

4) A person who resided in Israel illegally for more than one year may submit the request to enter Israel only five years after the date of departure from the country.

5) A foreign citizen who has been invited to Israel for a judicial process or a National Insurance Claims Committee will be considered regardless of previous illegal residence in Israel.

Please note that despite the stringent conditions above, there are exceptions to the rule, in which cases you will be able to receive an entry visa to Israel as a tourist earlier than the specified time periods. The Director of the Ministry of Interior has the authority to allow entrance to Israel in special cases earlier than stipulated in the rules listed above.

Foreign Citizen Invitation to Israel (for court discussion, to attend a trial, or to appear before the Claims Committee of the Israeli National Insurance)

1) The invitation of a foreigner to Israel with a tourist visa is done through a power of attorney letter, authenticated and certified by the Israeli consulate.

2) The invitation to Israel request for an Israeli tourist visa must include a court order, summons to appear in court or documents which prove that the presence of the invited foreigner is necessary.

3) If the request to enter Israel on a tourist visa is approved, the foreign guest receives permission to enter the country for up to seven days under the condition of placing a bank guarantee for the Ministry of Interior.

4) If the Israeli who submitted the tourist visa to Israel invitation filed similar requests in the past, the Ministry of Interior will check whether those invited foreign citizens left the country in time, before the expiration of the visa. If not, the B/2 tourist visa to Israel request may be refused. Also, in this case, the Ministry of Interior clerks may require a higher bank guarantee.

This service of submitting the Israeli tourist visa request includes a fee paid by the Israeli when placing the invitation.

The Ministry of Interior Procedure for Handling an Application for a Tourist Visa to Israel (for a foreign citizen who was invited to Israel by an Israeli)

The Israeli who wants to invite the foreign citizen must meet the conditions and requirements of the procedure for granting a tourist visa to Israel, which are as follows

1) Personal presence of the Israeli submitting the invitation for the Israeli tourist visa (required).

2) Filling an application for an entry visa to Israel as a tourist.

3) If the person who is invited to Israel as a tourist is a minor, it is required to submit a written permission, signed by both parents (or else legal guardians) in the Israeli consulate abroad or in Israel.

4) If a foreign visitor to Israel comes from a country at risk, he/she must fill out an abbreviated CV form.

5) The Israeli person who places the Israeli tourist visa invitation is obligated to be responsible for the purpose and duration of the visit of his/her foreign citizen visitor.

6) The Israeli person who submits the invitation needs to bring a photocopy of his/her Israeli identity card.

7) The invited foreign visitor needs to submit a photocopy of the passport, including the entrance visas to the countries which he/she visited in the past.

8) The passport of the visitor to Israel must be valid for at least six months from the moment of departure from the country of residence.

9) Documents and certificates which indicate the relationship between the Israeli who requests the invitation and the foreign visitor (birth certificate, marriage certificate, letters, etc.)

10) Any other relevant document requested by the Israel Ministry of Interior clerks in order to approve the B/2 Israeli tourist visa request.

Approving or Refusing the Request for a Tourist Visa to Israel 

The representative from the Israeli Ministry of Interior who handles the tourist visa request will first of all check whether an application meets the conditions, or if some required documentation is missing. If documents are missing, the request will be rejected prior to its consideration. In this case, the Israeli who submitted the tourist visa request will be asked to provide the necessary documents according to the procedure.

If the Israel tourist visa request is submitted in accordance with the requirements of the procedure, but the Department of Visas and Immigration is not convinced that the goal of the visit is really as requested, or else there is a concern that the purpose of a visit is not for a visit as a tourist, or it seems that the foreign visitor wants to settle in Israel, the tourist visa request will be denied.

The notice on refusal to enter Israel as a tourist will be sent to the Israeli person who placed the invitation within 30 days of submitting the Israeli visa request with an explanation of the reasons for denial.

If a request for a tourist visa to Israel is approved, the resolution will be transferred to the Israeli consulate abroad in the country of the foreigner who is invited to Israel as a tourist. The Israeli consul may delay the confirmation of the visa if he/she has doubts. In this case the request will be reviewed again.

It should be noted that even after obtaining an Israeli tourist visa, the officials of the Ministry of Interior who work at the border control crossings to Israel (Ben Gurion Airport, for example) have the authority to prevent entrance to Israel for various reasons. The most common reason is that an official has concerns that the purpose for entrance to Israel is not tourism, but rather work or illegal residence in Israel.

For additional questions regarding immigration to Israel or concerning entry to Israel on a tourist visa, please contact us.

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