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Legal status for couples without a joint “center of life” in Israel

Michael Decker
Michael Decker

Obtaining legal status in Israel for foreign spouses involves examination of several parameters, including the sincerity of the relationship, lack of a criminal or security record, and the existence of a joint “center of life” – the spouses maintaining a joint household, living in the same space for a significant amount of time. However, in the modern world there are many cases of partners who have a real and sincere relationship, but live in different countries. Our offices have assisted in many cases of mixed couples (Israelis with foreign partners) who live overseas, but wish to reserve the option of entering and leaving Israel freely and easily, and sometimes seek the possibility to work in Israel legally, despite their “center of life” being abroad. What can be done in these cases when dealing with the Interior Ministry? Do the immigration authorities in Israel recognize relationships across countries? In this article, attorney Michael Decker from our offices, an Israeli immigration law expert, will explain these issues.

Our law offices in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv specialize in immigration to Israel and assist our clients in obtaining legal status. Our attorneys have extensive experience in representing couples seeking to obtain legal status, including couples without a “center of life” in Israel.

Legal status without a joint “center of life”

Why is proof of a “center of life” in Israel required for obtaining foreign partners’ legal status?

There are many mixed couples in Israel – relationships between an Israeli citizen and a foreign citizen. The Citizenship Law provides for legal status for foreign spouses who are married to Israelis or those who live with them as a common law couple. To examine the many applications for legal status for foreign partners, the Interior Ministry set different regulations for married couples and common law couples.

The regulations for obtaining legal status require the partners to present themselves at the Population and Immigration Authority office. To obtain legal status for the foreign significant other, the couple is required to present various documents, prove the sincerity of their relationship and the absence of a criminal or security issue. In addition, the regulations state that the foreign husband or wife must prove that their “center of life” is in Israel, in order to begin the procedure of obtaining legal status (the gradual procedure).

What about spouses applying for legal status without a joint “center of life” in Israel?

Today, many Israelis live overseas. Sometimes, it is for short periods of a few months or years, and other times Israeli citizens choose to settle permanently in another country. What happens when such a person enters a relationship with a foreign citizen, lives with them, and later wishes to obtain legal status for them in Israel? Will their application be rejected due to the fact that they do not meet the requirement of having their “center of life” in Israel?

The regulations do indeed require that the significant other proves that their “center of life” is in Israel. Generally, then, the regulations only apply to couples who wish to immigrate to Israel together. However, to file a joint life application, it is enough for the spouses to prove that they live together and run a joint household, even if they live together abroad. That being said, in such cases the couple is required to request permission to invite the foreign spouse to Israel, before his or her arrival. This is done through the Israeli representative (the consulate/embassy) in the foreign country.

This may also be relevant for married couples who live separately – the Israeli partner in Israel and the foreign partner abroad. In these cases as well, despite the lack of a joint “center of life”, the Israeli partner can request to invite the foreign partner for the purpose of family reunification. The application is submitted to the Population and Immigration Authority. Common-law couples, on the other hand, must prove that they ran a joint household for at least a year before filing the application.

What are the criteria for a joint “center of life” in Israel?

Foreign spouses who have begun the gradual procedure are granted a residence visa which allows them to work in Israel. In order to meet the requirements of the Interior Ministry for “center of life” in Israel, they must live with their Israeli spouse, find a job, open a file in the National Insurance Institute and acquire membership in an Israeli health maintenance organization. In addition, they are expected to reside in Israel most of the time. Trips out of the country, even for a few weeks, may lead to the foreign spouse’s visa being revoked and cessation of the gradual procedure, on the grounds that a “center of life” in Israel is lacking.

However, in several cases, our offices have managed to convince Interior Ministry officials that there are couples who have a sincere relationship, but due to work or other justified reasons (the children’s education, for instance) choose to live permanently in different countries. For instance, if the Israeli partner lives in Israel most of the year, and the foreign partner lives in a foreign country but visits Israel often, the couple may request a visa from the Interior Ministry which will allow the foreign partner to enter and leave Israel multiple times. In some cases, a work visa may be requested with an inter-visa (a return visa) that allows for the foreign partner to enter and exit Israel without problems at the Ben Gurion Airport border. If the foreign partner plans to leave Israel, we recommend looking into the issue ahead of time with an experienced immigration attorney.

Contact an attorney who specializes in immigration to Israel

In conclusion, filing a joint-life application for obtaining legal status for a foreign partner may be possible without a joint “center of life” in Israel, even though, in general, embarking on the “gradual procedure” requires moving to Israel and proving a joint “center of life” in the country. Our law offices in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv are available to you for any question or assistance you may need regarding this issue. Our offices provide professional legal assistance for couples in the process of obtaining legal status.

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