There are significant differences between the various types of Israeli visas in terms of the conditions for obtaining them and the rights they grant to the foreign citizens who hold them. It is important to make sure that the type of visa for a visitor to Israel suits the purposes of the visit, so that the visitor will not risk being denied entry to Israel or being detained and deported by the immigration police during the stay in the country.
In this article, attorney Joshua Pex, a partner in our firm and an expert on immigration and visas for visiting and staying in Israel, will review the main types of visas and highlight the legal issues that you should pay attention to. In light of our office’s expertise in the subject of Israeli visas for staying or visiting, and the extensive information on each visa, we have provided links to other articles with more specific information on each visa type, for your convenience.
Our law office, with branches in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, specializes in immigration and Israeli entry visas and provides a variety of legal services on the issue, including assistance in submitting and processing applications for Israeli residency visas, obtaining work permits for foreign workers, obtaining legal status in Israel, applications for visas on a humanitarian basis, and arranging temporary residency, permanent residency and Israeli citizenship.
What is the Entry to Israel Law?
This is the primary legislation that regulates the issues of entry and staying in Israel for anyone who is not an Israeli citizen. Section 1(a) of the Entry to Israel Law, 1952 states that anyone who is not an Israeli citizen, or has an Oleh visa by virtue of the Law of Return, and wishes to enter Israel must obtain an Israeli visa. The type of visa varies according to the circumstances of the case, as detailed below in this article. The governing authority responsible for the matter is the Minister of the Interior, who has delegated his powers to the officials of the Population and Immigration Authority.
What are the main types of visas?
Type B/2 tourist visa – Israeli visit visa:
This is the standard type of visa given to people who wish to visit, tour or do business in Israel, without settling in the country. The B-2 is also known as a “tourist visa”, and is generally granted for a period of up to three months. However, according to Section 3(2) of the Entry to Israel Law, the Minister of the Interior (from here on, any reference to the Minister of the Interior mainly applies to the employees of the Population and Immigration Authority) can extend the visa for a period of up to two years. In practice, cases where a tourist visa is issued for periods longer than 3 months are very rare.
This type of visa does not give the visa holder the right to work in Israel (for that purpose one must have a type B/1 visa – see explanation of this type of visa below). If the holder of a tourist visa wishes to start working in Israel, they will have to leave the country and apply for a work visa – unless the Minister of the Interior has specifically given them approval to do so.
The State of Israel has signed visa exemption agreements with most countries of the Western world, as well as many other countries; but it is important to understand that these agreements do not really “exempt” visitors to Israel from the need for an entry visa, but rather exempt them from the need to obtain a visa in advance, before arriving in Israel. The vast majority of visitors from exempt countries receive an entry permit immediately upon entering Israel.
It is important to emphasize that border control officials have broad powers, and if they form the impression that the person requesting entrance to Israel is trying to immigrate to Israel or work in the country illegally, or poses a concern for public safety or national security – it is possible that the visitor will be refused entry to Israel and consequently deported back to their country of origin. Alternatively, it is possible that a suspicious visitor will be issued a visa for a particularly short period, or that they will be required to post collateral as a condition for approval of entry into Israel.
Citizens who come from countries that do not have a visa exemption are required to obtain a visa in advance, while still in their country of origin. The procedure for obtaining the visa is carried out through the Israeli embassy or consulate in the country of origin: the embassy employees are also required to verify that the visitor does not wish to work in Israel illegally, harm the Israeli public or exceed the expiration date of the visa.
In cases where foreign citizens cannot submit a visa application in their country of origin, because there is no Israeli embassy or consulate there, the application is done through an alternative embassy or consulate in a neighboring country. In addition, there is also an option for an Israeli citizen or permanent resident to invite these foreign citizens to visit Israel through an office of the Population Registration Bureau close to the Israeli’s place of residence. For more information, you are invited to read our article on the subject of Israeli tourist visas.
How does one obtain a visa / Israeli citizenship for a foreign spouse?
Opening a joint-life file is the first step in obtaining legal status for a foreign spouse in Israel. Once the file is opened, a lengthy procedure begins, usually lasting between five and seven years, at the end of which the foreign spouse will be able to obtain Israeli citizenship or permanent resident status. This procedure, in the framework of obtaining legal status in Israel, is called the “gradual process” and includes several stages. At the end of each stage, the foreign spouse’s visa is upgraded to a more permanent status.
After an initial verification that the foreign spouse fulfills the basic conditions, they are granted a visa to stay in Israel for 6 months, which includes a work permit (a permit to stay and work in Israel, type B/1). If it is a married couple seeking to immigrate with their minor children, the children are granted an “accompanying minor visa” at this stage. This is, of course, subject to their compliance with the other conditions.
At the next step, the couple is required to prove three conditions: the absence of a criminal/security issue; a joint center of life in Israel and the sincerity of the marital relationship. If these three conditions are met, the foreign spouse will be granted a temporary resident visa in Israel. This visa is valid for one year at a time, and must be renewed each year.
After about four years after the spouse receives the temporary resident visa, the Israeli spouse will have to appear at an office of the Ministry of the Interior and declare which status they want for their foreign spouse – a permanent residence permit or naturalization. At this stage, an up-to-date examination of the sincerity of the marital relationship and compliance with the other conditions of the procedure will be conducted. Unlike other cases of applying for naturalization, the spouse will be exempt from the requirement to give up their additional citizenship or master the Hebrew language.
What is a shortened tourist visa for people with unclear status / B/3 visa?
A B/3 visa is granted at the discretion of the Minister of the Interior to visitors whose status is unclear. The validity of the visa is up to one month only. What situations does it apply to? For example, Israeli citizens or olim from abroad who lack documents proving their status and wish to enter the country urgently, without delaying to clarify the issue of citizenship via the immigration authorities or the Population Registry.
During this month, the visa holder must come to the nearest Population Authority office in order to clarify or arrange their status. Depending on the circumstances, a B/3 visa holder may receive resident status, citizenship, or even voluntarily renounce their citizenship. If the visa holder did not arrange their legal status during their stay in the country, they will not be able to obtain this visa again.
How does one obtain an Israeli volunteer visa / B/4 visa?
With the understanding that volunteering by foreign citizens is intended to contribute to the state and its citizens, a variety of organizations who wish to obtain the help of foreign volunteers, including welfare and health organizations, religious institutions, kibbutzim, agricultural settlements, philanthropic institutions and the IDF, may offer them a type B/4 “volunteer visa”. It is important to note that the application must be submitted by the organization that wishes to invite a foreign volunteer, not by the volunteers themselves.
There is a distinction between foreigners from countries that are exempt from obtaining an entry visa in advance, and foreigners from countries that are not exempt from an entry visa. A volunteer from a country that requires an entry visa will have the application approved at the Israeli consulate in their country of origin. On the other hand, a volunteer from an exempt country can enter with a tourist visa, and then report to the Population Bureau within 30 days to receive the volunteer visa (if it was approved in advance, before their arrival in Israel).
We emphasize that it is forbidden to offer a salary or other compensation to a foreign citizen who wishes to volunteer – with the exception of living expenses, accommodations, and enrichment courses.
How does one apply for a work visa for foreign workers with special expertise / B/1 expert visa?
Firstly, it should be noted that in Israel a citizen of a foreign country cannot obtain a “general” work visa that will allow them to enter Israel, and only then start looking for an employer. The process is the opposite: an Israeli business owner applies to the Ministry of the Interior with a request to bring a foreign worker to Israel.
The potential employer is required to prove that a foreign worker is needed because it is difficult to find an Israeli to fill the position. After receiving the approval in principle, they are also required to prove that the specific foreign worker has the unique expertise needed for the position. The types of specialist visas include academic, medical, art, sports, and industry, among others. It should be noted that, as of 2022, there is an expedited track for arranging employment for foreign experts in the high-tech field. An employer who wishes to bring a foreign worker to Israel must contact the Ministry of the Interior and show (usually with the help of an attorney specializing in the subject) that:
- Their business requires an employee with knowledge, expertise or skills that are difficult to find in Israel;
- Bringing the foreign worker to the company will contribute to the growth of the business, to the employment of additional Israeli workers, and to the development of the Israeli economy.
The procedure for issuing a visa for the employment of an expert foreign worker in Israel involves two separate stages:
- Submitting an application for a work permit to the Permits Division – Experts Section;
- If the application is approved, the Ministry of the Interior has the authority to decide whether to approve the permit and issue a B/1 work visa which is valid for one year.
Also, the employer must know that by law they must pay the expert employee a salary that is at least twice as large as the average salary for that job in the Israeli market. If the application is approved, the Ministry of the Interior will issue the expert foreign worker a B/1 work visa which is valid for one year.
It is important to know that a person over the age of 60 is not eligible to receive a work visa in Israel. In addition, a foreign worker who has first-degree relatives who are foreign citizens with a residence visa in Israel (spouse, parents, brothers and sisters) cannot obtain a work visa in Israel, even if their family members are legally staying in Israel. You are invited to read another article that we dedicated to the subject, detailing the documents that must be prepared in order to submit an application for an expert foreign worker.
If you need the help of a foreign worker urgently and for a short period, there is an expedited procedure (within only 6 days!) to obtain an expert foreign worker permit for a period of up to 45 days.
What is the difference between an expert foreign worker visa and a “regular” B/1 work visa for foreign workers?
In addition to work visas for expert workers, Israel offers a large number of work visas for foreigners who are not experts, in the fields of agriculture, construction, and nursing. These foreign workers are recruited by companies in Israel that specialize in those fields. These workers are not required to demonstrate unique expertise, but must prove that they do not have a criminal record, have not been refused entry to Israel in the past and have not tried to obtain asylum in the country.
We remind you again that, as a general rule, it is not possible to arrive in Israel with a tourist visa and then start the procedure of obtaining a work visa while staying in Israel. Except for those entitled to the Law of Return, a work visa can only be obtained in cases where the invited worker is still abroad, through the Israeli representation in the foreign worker’s country of origin.
How does one obtain a student visa / A/2 visa?
In order to study in Israel as a foreign citizen, a student must have an appropriate type A/2 visa. The application for obtaining or extending a student visa can be submitted by the student themselves at the Israeli embassy in their country of origin, but the institution where the student wishes to study can also submit the application to the Ministry of the Interior, even before the student enters Israel. If the student wishes to continue their studies in Israel beyond the expiration period of the visa, an application to extend the student visa must be submitted to the Population and Immigration Authority in Israel. A student visa is usually valid for one year, with an option for extension of up to 4 or 5 years depending on the duration of studies in Israel and the type of degree. There are special permits for extending the visa for a longer period.
A student visa does not include permission to work in Israel, usually even at the educational institution where the student studies. Working illegally is considered a violation of the visa conditions of the foreign student.
The Population and Immigration Authority’s protocol on the subject specifically discusses students who are considered “eligible for the Law of Return”, who are eligible for various concessions such as: a continuous visa for up to three years, with extension for five years, and an Israeli work permit under more lenient conditions.
How does one obtain a type B/5 residence and work visa for investors who are citizens of the United States?
As of 2019, citizens of the United States who are not entitled to make Aliyah by virtue of the Law of Return have the option to live and work in Israel, on the condition that they invest a certain amount in the purchase or establishment of an Israeli company. The B/5 visa allows the investor, managers and key employees, US citizens, to stay in Israel along with their family members. Those who apply for an Israeli B/5 foreign investor visa are required to meet all the conditions detailed below:
- Invest a significant amount of their money to establish a new business or purchase an existing one in Israel;
- Acquire ownership of at least 50% of the business;
- The business in which the money was invested must be profitable;
- In addition, it must be proven that the business will generate enough profits so that the investor and their family can support themselves in Israel;
- The business will create jobs for Israeli workers and will spur growth in the Israeli economy.
For more information, you are invited to read the relevant protocol of the Population and Immigration Authority as well as an article by our office.
Who can obtain a type A/3 clergy visa?
In order to obtain a clergy visa in Israel, a recognized religious institution must invite the clergyperson to Israel, while the clergyperson themselves is abroad. The religious institution must provide an explanation of their need for an employee who is a clergyperson; the clergyperson must provide certificates that they can work in a religious mission, such as certification documents from a religious institution.
In some cases, it is possible to submit the application when the religious worker is already in Israel. In these cases, the applications will be processed at the headquarters of the Ministry of Interior in Jerusalem.
How does one apply for a visa for the parents of a lone soldier?
It is not easy to be a lone soldier in the IDF, and therefore the Population and Immigration Authority established a procedure for granting status to the parents of soldiers. In the first step of the procedure, a parent of an IDF soldier receives a type B/2 visit visa (Israeli tourist visa) which grants a stay in Israel for a period of up to 3 months. Later, after the parent’s arrival in Israel, they may submit an application to receive type A/5 temporary resident status which grants a stay in Israel for a period of one year. Subsequently, it is possible to extend the temporary resident visa for a period of two years, and in total up to a cumulative period of 4 years. At the end of this procedure, it is possible to obtain permanent residency and even submit an application for naturalization. For more details, please read our article on the subject.
Who can obtain a residence visa and citizenship in Israel as a lone elderly parent?
Any Israeli citizen, even if they received Israeli legal status as the spouse of an Israeli and their parents are not entitled to the Law of Return, can invite a solitary elderly parent, who does not have a spouse or other children abroad, to stay in Israel and receive permanent resident status or citizenship here.
Can the Righteous Among the Nations and their children live in Israel?
The Righteous Among the Nations (who are still alive) and their children can receive an Israeli residence and work visa, provided that the person has indeed received recognition as Righteous Among the Nations from Yad Vashem.
We assist in the process of obtaining an Israeli visa
As you have probably understood from reading this article, obtaining an Israeli visa is often a complicated matter, and it is recommended to use the services of an attorney who specializes in the subject. Our law office specializes in issues of Israeli visas, Aliyah, immigration, various permits and obtaining legal status in Israel. If you wish to obtain an entry visa and status in Israel, make Aliyah, obtain Israeli citizenship, bring guests, spouses or family members to Israel, etc. – we will gladly be at your service! You are invited to schedule an appointment with the attorneys from our office in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, by phone or via the email address below.
The article was written in collaboration with attorney Adam Johnson.