Permanent residency or citizenship – which status is preferable for a foreign spouse in Israel?
After the lengthy process of obtaining Israeli legal status, the foreign spouse of an Israeli citizen faces the critical choice of which status to acquire – that of a permanent resident or a citizen. What are the differences between permanent residency and citizenship, and when might the foreign spouse prefer one over the other? In this article, attorney Michael Decker, an immigration law specialist from our office, explains the issue.
Our offices specialize in Israeli immigration law and the process of obtaining legal status for foreign spouses. Attorneys from our office accompany foreign spouses through the various stages of obtaining legal status, from filing a joint-life application to arranging permanent legal status – permanent residency and citizenship – in Israel.
About the gradual process and its completion
The Citizenship Law and the Entrance to Israel Law distinguish between the citizenship track for married couples and that for common-law couples. Population and Immigration Authority regulations are different for each track. The regulation pertaining to common-law couples stipulates a gradual process of at least 7 years. In contrast, the regulation for married couples sets out a gradual process of approximately 5 years. Yet, it must be noted that in certain cases, the track for common-law couples may actually be shorter (for example, in the case of a same-sex couple).
In another article published on our site, we describe in detail the various stages of the gradual processes and the visas granted within this framework. In this article we focus on what is in fact the final stage of the lengthy process that a foreign spouse undergoes to obtain legal status in Israel. Many of these foreign citizens face the choice of whether to maintain the status of a permanent resident, or to become a citizen. To make this decision, it is important to understand thoroughly the significance of the two different statuses. We explain this in detail below.
Citizenship vs. permanent residency
From a legal point of view, permanent residency is a visa allowing the bearer to reside permanently in Israel. In practice, permanent residency status confers most of the rights enjoyed by Israeli citizens. A permanent resident is entitled to an Israeli identity card, as well as the rights granted under the National Insurance Law. These include guaranteed minimum income, unemployment, etc. Yet, permanent residents are not entitled to vote in elections for the Knesset, nor can they be elected as Knesset members.
For our purposes, one of the significant differences between permanent residents and citizens is that only Israeli citizens are entitled to an Israeli passport; permanent residents remain with their foreign passport. Accordingly, their ability to leave and enter Israel is more limited. If they leave Israel for an extended period, they may lose their right to their permanent residency status (due to expiration of permanent residency). Moreover, there are public positions that can only be held by citizens, such as judges in Israeli courts.
Cases in which a foreign spouse is forced to give up their foreign citizenship
There are some countries which forbid their citizens to hold a foreign passport. Likewise, foreign citizens who are not yet married to their Israeli spouses are generally required to give up their foreign passport in order to apply for Israeli citizenship. The Interior Minister is authorized to exempt a foreign spouse from this requirement, if he is of the opinion that special circumstances warrant it. This exemption is not granted automatically, however; a special application must be made to obtain it.
Contact an attorney who specializes in Israeli immigration law
The summary we have presented above indicates that there are several significant differences between citizens and permanent residents. These differences must be taken into account when a foreign spouse completes the gradual process to obtain Israeli legal status and must decide whether to become a permanent resident or a citizen. If you have any question or need assistance regarding this issue, you can contact our office and one of our attorneys will be happy to help you. Our office specializes in immigration to Israel and has accompanied many couples through the various processes of obtaining legal status in Israel, from filing a joint-life application to obtaining permanent status.