What are the ways that a non-Jew can obtain Israeli citizenship?
What are the options for a non-Jew who wants to obtain Israeli citizenship? Israeli law offers several tracks for foreigners who are interested in obtaining this citizenship. One of these tracks is to arrange legal status for a foreign spouse and א minor children, if the foreign citizen’s partner is an Israeli citizen (and the couple is either officially married or in a common-law marriage). Non-Jews who convert to Judaism may also obtain Israeli citizenship. In addition, there are several alternative tracks to citizenship. In this comprehensive guide we present you with vital legal information on this issue.
In our offices, located in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, you’ll find attorneys who specialize in Israeli immigration law. Our office has extensive, proven experience in representing foreign citizens undergoing proceedings to obtain Israeli legal status with the Population and Immigration Authority of the Interior Ministry, as well as court proceedings. Our office provides legal counsel for foreign citizens and assists them every step of the way towards obtaining legal status.
Israeli citizenship for non-Jews – how does it work?
Israel is defined as a Jewish, democratic state, and as such, it constitutes a national home for world Jewry. The Law of Return enables Jews and even descendants of Jews to make aliya to Israel and receive the status of citizens. But don’t be confused by this definition – Israeli citizenship is also possible for people who are not Jewish. However, the citizenship tracks for the non-Jewish are more limited.
We can state from experience that obtaining Israeli citizenship for non-Jews is entirely possible. Our office has handled many cases of people with other citizenships, and assisted them to arrange their legal status and obtain Israeli citizenship or permanent residency. However, most cases involve a complicated process, and it is important to know ahead of time what is involved. Below we will present the main tracks for obtaining Israeli citizenship and describe each one in detail.
Israeli citizenship for a non-Jewish spouse
Mixed marriages and romantic partnerships are a complex issue under Israeli law. Partners who belong to different religions, as a rule, cannot get married in Israel. Yet the Israeli Interior Ministry recognizes mixed couples who got married abroad. In addition, the law allows mixed couples who are married to arrange their legal status in Israel and acquire Israeli citizenship for the foreign partner. Note that for many years, the Israeli Interior Ministry had caused numerous problems for mixed couples seeking to live together in Israel, and had even ordered the foreign partner to leave the country or to remain outside the country until their legal status has been arranged.
This situation changed in the wake of an extremely important Supreme Court ruling of 1999 (the Stamka ruling). In this ruling, the Supreme Court instructed the Interior Ministry to change its policy, and to switch to examining the quality of the relationship and sincerity of the couple’s bond instead of the existing policy. This ruling was joined by another one (the Oren Administrative Appeal) in which a similar decree was made regarding common-law couples. After these court rulings, the Interior Ministry updated its policy on the issue, and wrote regulations which define in detail the process of obtaining citizenship for foreign partners, married or common-law.
The relevant regulations are based on the Citizenship Law and the Entrance to Israel Law, and they define two different tracks for married couples and common-law couples. The Citizenship Law defines a unique track which applies to married couples, which generally takes about five years, and ultimately grants citizenship to the foreign spouse. The track for common-law couples is longer, taking about seven years. This track is also applicable to same-sex couples.
In both cases, legal status is obtained through the “gradual process”. This process requires applying to open a joint-life file, after which the foreign partner is granted a visa to stay in Israel. The couple must undergo periodic interviews, in which the sincerity of their relationship is evaluated. Given that this process is lengthy and bureaucratically complex, it is advisable to seek help from an attorney specializing in Israeli immigration law, who will accompany the couple and assist in moving the process along.
How can legal status be arranged for minor children of a foreign partner?
Foreign partners who are seeking Israeli citizenship sometimes have custody of minor children with a different citizenship. Moving minors between countries is naturally a more emotionally and socially complex process than moving adults, given everything involved. A problem that frequently arises in such situations is that the minor children have a second biological parent, and there is concern about physically cutting them off from that parent. Israeli law recognizes these difficulties, and therefore there are special rules concerning arranging legal status of minors who are accompanying parents seeking to live in Israel with their Israeli partner.
The regulations on legal status for foreign partners include a preliminary requirement regarding minors living with them. This is the requirement to obtain the opinion of the biological parent who lives outside of Israel regarding obtaining Israeli legal status and citizenship for his or her minor children. The second parent’s consent must be given in writing. If the second parent is in opposition, this may hamper or even negate the possibility of obtaining legal status for the foreign partner’s minor children.
In cases where it is impossible to obtain the second parent’s opinion, the regulations state that the Interior Ministry must contact the parent directly in order to obtain his or her official stance. In these cases contact is made by sending letters to the parent’s address. If the second parent has passed away, a official death certificate must be presented, including an official translation of the certificate (if needed) and legal authentication.
For minors who are over 15 years of age, there is an additional requirement beyond those described above, which is to present proof that the minors have been in the custody of the foreign parent for at least two years before the application is filed. This means proof that the minors are legally in their parent’s custody (such as a divorce agreement or a court ruling stating so explicitly), as well as proof that the minors are actually in their parent’s custody, residing with them. In all cases the minors’ foreign passports, valid for at least two years, must be attached to the application for legal status, as well as an original birth certificate, authenticated and translated as needed.
Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return for converts to Judaism
With the founding of the state, Israel’s leadership decided to make Jews eligible to immigrate to Israel. According to Section 1 of the Law of Return, every Jew is eligible to make aliya and thus to be a citizen of the state. This law also allows recognition of someone who underwent conversion as being eligible for citizenship, but for that they must meet various criteria. It is important to know that although the conversion process itself is long and complicated, the recognition of a conversion for the purposes of citizenship is also likely to involve a legal battle.
The regulations set by the Israeli authorities for recognizing a conversion require proof that the conversion was done out of a sincere desire to become Jewish, and not only to obtain Israeli citizenship. Someone who wishes to make aliya and receive citizenship as a convert will be required to prove that they underwent the conversion process in a Jewish community recognized by the State of Israel. Membership in the Jewish community is required for at least nine months before the conversion, as well as continued participation in the community for at least nine months after the conversion certificate is granted.
For the State of Israel to recognize a conversion, various documents must be presented to the Israeli authorities. These include: a conversion certificate signed according to Jewish law by a recognized rabbinical court; a letter of declaration by the person who underwent conversion, describing their involvement in the Jewish community and the reasons that led them to convert in the first place; an official letter from the head of the Jewish community or the rabbinical court that accepted the person who underwent conversion, describing the process they went through, including how long the process took, the preparations for conversion and the Jewish studies undertaken; and another official letter from the head of the community, describing the involvement of the converted person in the Jewish community after the conversion.
It is clear that this process may be quite complex. This track is intended for someone who is honestly interested in converting to the Jewish religion and making aliya by virtue of their Jewishness. Note that despite various attempts to make the legal status of Conservative and Reform Jews equal to that of Orthodox Jews in this respect, there is still a tendency to favor those who underwent Orthodox conversion. Moreover, other difficulties may arise in arranging legal status for converted Jews, irrespective of what stream of Judaism they belong to. More detailed information on this issue can be found in another article published on our site.
Permanent residence in Israel – another alternative to Israeli citizenship for non-Jews
Alongside the tracks described above for obtaining Israeli citizenship, in many other cases there is an option to obtain the status of permanent resident in Israel. This status is almost equal in value to Israeli citizenship, differing mainly in that permanent residents are not eligible for an Israeli passport nor to vote in elections for the Knesset. This status is also likely to be revoked in cases of an extended stay outside of Israel. The status of permanent resident is likely to be relevant for foreign partners of Israeli citizens and permanent residents, as an alternative to acquiring Israeli citizenship. This is the preferred track for foreign spouses whose country of origin does not allow them to acquire an additional citizenship and who do not wish to give up their other citizenship.
Likewise, this status is likely to be relevant in cases of parents of Israeli soldiers or elderly parents of Israeli citizens who are alone. In such cases, the State of Israel allows them to obtain legal status in Israel for humanitarian reasons, for the purpose of uniting Israelis with their parents living alone across the sea. This involves a process that takes several years, and requires the parents to obtain temporary status in Israel before obtaining the status of permanent resident.
Permanent residency is also likely to be relevant for Palestinians and foreign citizens who should receive this status for humanitarian reasons. The law enables the Interior Minister to grant permanent resident status (and in some cases even Israeli citizenship) in exceptional cases. These include cases involving the special interests of the State of Israel, or for Palestinians who are working to promote the security of the State of Israel, the country’s economy, or any other important interest of the state.
Alongside all these options, there is also the possibility to acquire permanent residency status for humanitarian reasons among asylum seekers or citizens of a hostile country who are married to or live in a relationship with Israeli citizens. Such cases involve arranging legal status on the basis of a spousal bond, since without such a bond, the state tends to place bureaucratic roadblocks in the way of such foreign citizens obtaining official legal status in Israel.
Israeli citizenship for non-Jews – contact a legal office dealing with Israeli immigration law
In this article we have described the various tracks for obtaining Israeli citizenship for non-Jews. Alongside all these tracks, there are other individual cases in which people can obtain permanent residency or citizenship. If you need advice, an eligibility check or assistance on any issue related to citizenship for non-Jews, you can contact an attorney from our office who specializes in Israeli immigration law. At our office you’ll find attorneys with expertise in arranging legal status for foreign citizens and in processes of Israeli naturalization for couples, family members, and foreign citizens with ties to Israel.