Legal Status in Israel for Spouses of Israeli Citizens or Permanent Residents
The law office of Cohen, Decker, Pex, and Brosh is one of the leading Israeli firms in the area of immigration law to Israel. Obtaining legal status in Israel for spouses who are either married to or in a long-term relationship with an Israeli is a central issue in moving to and settling in Israel.
This article, written by Attorney Nechama Ovadia, with the help of Attorneys Michael Decker and Joshua Pex, founding partners of Cohen, Decker, Pex & Brosh, is the most comprehensive, up-to-date legal review, as of May 2020, concerning regulating status in Israel for foreign spouses.
Introduction – The phenomenon of foreign workers forming romantic relationships with Israeli partners
From the very beginning, the State of Israel has faced the issue of regulating the status of foreign spouses (those who are not Israeli citizens or residents, and who are not eligible to make Aliyah to Israel as Jews or descendants of Jews under the Law of Return) of Israeli citizens or permanent residents. It should be noted that this issue has undergone many developments, legally as well as socially and culturally. Additionally, this phenomenon of “mixed couples” has become much more prevalent over the years, and even more so in the last decade.
In the last decade alone, the world (and the State of Israel as a whole), has experienced many changes in terms of globalization, due to international social networks such as Facebook, and even international social apps focusing on romantic encounters for couples (such as Tinder, etc., for heterosexual couples, or Grinder, etc., for same-sex couples).
In addition, airline travel has become much more affordable than it was in the past, and many more Israelis are flying abroad. These Israeli tourists often meet and fall in love with partners during their travels and then choose to bring their partners home and put down roots in the State of Israel.
Also, relative to the country’s struggling economy at the time of its founding, today’s economy is thriving. The attractive economic conditions, relative to many other countries, draw large numbers of foreign workers and refugees to Israel (who then often meet partners who are Israeli citizens or residents). Generally, many foreign spouses prefer to live in Israel with their Israeli spouses (even when these foreign spouses come from Western countries with a high standard of living).
All the above factors — globalization, opening of borders, today’s widespread phenomenon of meeting and finding spouses through the internet, many foreign nationals choosing to make Israeli their center of life for its improved economic and security situation, as well as the country’s acceptance of relationships and mixed marriages amongst people of different religions and nationalities — has increased the number of couples turning to the Ministry of Interior with family unification or joint-life applications (when an Israeli applies on behalf of a spouse who is a foreign national). Although the exact number is difficult to calculate, estimates indicate that the Ministry of the Interior receives between 3,000 to 4,000 applications each year from Israelis who marry foreigners or chose to live with them in Israel as common-law couples.
Historical development of the legal status of Israelis’ foreign partners
In early laws of the State of Israel, there were actually two channels through which to regulate the status of foreign spouses of Israeli citizens. The first was via Section 4a(a) of the Law of Return – 1950 (hereinafter: “Law of Return”); the second was via Section 7 of the Citizenship Law – 1952 (hereinafter: “Citizenship Law”).
Section 4a(a) of the Law of Return states the following:
“The rights of a Jew under this Law and the rights of an immigrant under the Citizenship [Nationality] Law, 5712-1952, as well as the rights of an immigrant under any other enactment, are also vested in a child and a grandchild of a Jew, the spouse of a Jew, the spouse of a child of a Jew, and the spouse of a grandchild of a Jew, except for a person who has been a Jew and has voluntarily changed his religion.”
Section 7 of the Citizenship Law states the following:
“The spouse of a person who is an Israeli national or who has applied for Israel nationality and meets or is exempt from the requirements of Section 5(a) may obtain Israel nationality by naturalization even if she or he is a minor or does not meet the requirements of Section 5(a).”
The policy which the State of Israel adopted early on, concerning foreign spouses of Jews, or descendants of Jews, both eligible under the Law of Return, was to grant automatic citizenship to the foreign spouse of an Israeli citizen, in accordance to Section 4a(a) of the Law of Return.
Yet, over time, with increasing numbers of foreign spouses requesting status as a result of their relationships with Israelis (a phenomenon that gained momentum after the 1990s with the Aliyah of Jews from the Soviet Union), the Ministry of Interior changed its policy. It began applying Section 7 of the Citizenship Law, and not Section 4a(a) of the Law of Return, to such cases.
At first, the Ministry of Interior required foreign spouses to leave the country in order to be legally invited into Israel afterwards to settle their status. This policy sparked many appeals to the Supreme Court by people who ended up in that situation, one of which was the well-known case 3648/97 Stamka vs. the Ministry of Interior (hereinafter: the “Stamka case”).
In the Stamka case, Justice Mishael Hashin ruled, amongst other things, that automatic citizenship by virtue of the Law of Return shall be given only to foreign spouses who are eligible to return (Jews or descendants of Jews), and only if those who are eligible to return are not yet Israelis.
If an Israeli citizen requests citizenship for a foreign spouse, the spouse must apply for naturalization according to Section 7 of the Citizenship Law. In his ruling, Justice Mishael Hashin elaborated on the best practice to follow in regulating the status of a foreign spouse.
Additionally, the Stamka ruling stated that the requirement that the foreign spouse leave the country, only to be invited back again, was unreasonable. Moreover, spouses should be permitted to remain in the country to prove the sincerity of their relationship to the Ministry of Interior. (You can learn more about this issue in this video.)
Regulating the status of foreign spouses married to Israelis
The main procedure involved in regulating the status of foreign spouses of Israeli citizens is the process for granting status to a foreign spouse married to an Israeli citizen, procedure number 5.2.0008.
According to this procedure, the status of a foreign national is settled within a period of 4.5 years, according to the “gradual process.” In this process, the foreign national obtains a B-1 work visa for the first 6 months. Afterwards, the foreign national obtains an A-5 temporary resident status for a cumulative period of 4 years, as it must be renewed each year. At the end of the process, the foreign spouse is granted Israeli citizenship, without being required to renounce any other citizenship.
In addition, prior to initiating this gradual process, the couple must present the relevant documentation and information to the Ministry of Interior. This is a prerequisite for opening a joint-life application and beginning the gradual process (for more information on the documents required, see this article on our site). Note that the only difference in the documents required for a married couple and a common-law couple is the marriage certificate.
Since Israel does not have civil marriage, if the spouses belong to different religions, or have no religion, they must perform a marriage in some other country which provides a civil marriage certificate that can be stamped with an Apostille.
In this respect we should note that every official document from another country must be authenticated in accordance with Section 30 of the Evidence Ordinance – 1971. This is done through an Apostille stamp, or via a representative of the Israeli Consulate in the country of origin. (You can read more about Apostille stamps in this article.)
Many couples who cannot marry in the State of Israel, including mixed couples (when one is an Israeli citizen or resident and the other is not), marry in Cyprus. Marriage in Cyprus can be a convenient arrangement, as long as neither spouse faces the danger of being banned from re-entering the country (the Ministry of Interior may refuse re-entry of a foreign spouse, as explained in this article). An additional limitation may exist if the Israeli partner is restricted from leaving Israel, due to debts or other restrictions. You can learn about how to revoke an exit delay order in
It is also possible to marry through a power of attorney (proxy marriage), with only one of the partners needing to be present (single proxy marriage), in Paraguay or in the state of Kansas, USA. It is even possible to marry without either of the partners present (double proxy marriage) in. Such a marriage is legally recognized in the state of Israel, once the documents are translated and submitted to the Ministry of Interior.
Bringing in minor children from a previous relationship who are accompanying the foreign spouse (only relevant for foreigners married to Israeli citizens)
Sometimes couples form relationships at a later stage of life, and the foreign spouse may have children from a previous marriage. Bringing in the children of foreign spouses is only relevant if the children are minors, and only when the couple is married to each other.
The procedure for inviting accompanying minors is delineated in procedure 5.2.0008 for regulating the status of a foreigner married to an Israeli citizen. Inviting a minor child is oftentimes critical to the relationship, as many parents will not consider coming to live in Israel with their spouse without permission to bring their minor child with them.
First of all, we should clarify that in every case, the status of the minor(s) depends on the status of the foreign parent. Thus the child who is brought to Israel receives the status of the foreign parent, if the child does indeed meet all the conditions for entering Israel.
In order to invite a minor, both spouses must present the necessary documentation at the Ministry of Interior. For a more in-depth explanation about inviting a foreign spouse with children from a previous relationship, see this article on our site.
Upon receiving the request, the Ministry of Interior will contact the other parent of the minor in order to clarify his or her stand regarding the request for the minor to be brought to Israel. Thus, the inviting parent will need to provide the Ministry of the Interior with an official document showing the other parent’s current address. The Ministry will send the other parent a written notice informing him or her that the request was submitted, and that he or she has the right to oppose it.
After the notice has been sent, the Ministry of Interior will wait 6 months to receive an answer from the other parent. If no answer is received within this time, it is considered to be a lack of opposition. In the event that the other parent objects to the minor’s immigration to Israel, however, the minor will not be granted legal status.
If the other parent does not object to the minor immigrating, but objects to the minor receiving Israeli citizenship — then the minor shall be granted only temporary residency, as will the parent who lives in Israel. For more information on the status of temporary resident, see this article on our site.
Only in exceptional cases will the other parent’s response not be requested. For example, if the other parent has died, then formal proof of the death will be required. If this is proved with an official document, then clearly no notice to the other parent is required. Also, if there is a court order stating that the inviting parent is the sole guardian of the minor, then again the other parent’s consent is not required.
It is possible to acquire the other parent’s consent in advance, up-to-date and legally validated, in order to avoid the six-month waiting period. In this respect, it should be noted that every official document from another country must be authenticated. This, in accordance with Section 30 of the Evidence Ordinance, 1971, can be done via an Apostille stamp, or in the presence of an official at the Israeli Consulate in the country of origin.
The regulations distinguish between various ages of an accompanying minor: a minor under age 15, a minor above age 15, and a minor whose age is 17.5 years at the time when the application is submitted. If the minor is over 15, then additional proof is required that he was in the inviting parent’s custody for at least two years before the application was submitted. If he is 17.5 years or older, the application will be passed on to the director of Visas and Foreign Nationals at Authority headquarters.
Arranging legal status for foreign spouses of Israeli permanent residents (who are not area residents/Palestinians)
Israel has many permanent residents, who have lived in the country since birth with the status of permanent residents, but who are not citizens of the country (though many of them are eligible to apply for naturalization). Permanent residents who marry foreigners and apply to live with them in Israel must also arrange their spouse’s legal status, although the process is different in their case.
The primary regulation covering foreign spouses of permanent residents is no. 0011 – 5.2. This regulation provides a foreign national with legal status by virtue of his or her marriage to a permanent resident. For more information on this regulation, see this article on our site.
First of all, it is important to note the distinction between area residents (Palestinians and occupants of the territories) and foreign nationals. This article relates to foreigners who are not area residents.
The application must be submitted to the office near the Israeli spouse’s residence, and requires documents testifying to the connection between the spouses, as well as official documents which are prerequisites for opening a family unification application and beginning the gradual procedure. For more information on the required documents, see this article on our site.
As above, note that every official document from another country must be authenticated in accordance with Section 30 of the Evidence Ordinance – 1971. This is done through an Apostille stamp, or in the presence of a representative of the Israeli Consulate in the country of origin.
After all documents have been submitted, the couple will be interviewed – the Israeli at the Jerusalem office of the Ministry of the Interior, and the foreign national at the Israeli consulate near his or her place of residence. For more information on the interview to determine sincerity of the relationship, or on contradictions in the interview, see this article.
If the interviews pass successfully, the foreigner will be given an entry permit to Israel, a B-1 visa. This means a tourist visa combined with a work permit. The visa will be granted for a period of 15 months, and will be extended for an additional year, after an additional check, up to a total of 27 months. At the end of this period, the foreigner will be granted a A-5 visa, a temporary resident visa, for a year. This will be extended every year, after a check, up to a total of three years, after which the foreigner may apply for permanent residency.
Arranging status of a foreigner in a common-law marriage with an Israeli resident or citizen, including same-sex couples
Given that many mixed-religion couples cannot legally marry in the State of Israel, courts have granted broader legal authority to the institution of common-law marriage than is found in other countries. This authority may be relevant in establishing the legal status of foreign partners of Israeli citizens and permanent residents (even if these couples are not officially married in any way). For more information on the institution of common-law marriage in Israeli law, see this article on our website.
For a foreigner in a common-law marriage with an Israeli citizen, the relevant procedure is the procedure for granting legal standing to spouses of Israelis, including same-sex couples, number 5.2.0009. The procedure applies to partners of Israeli citizens and permanent residents, including partners of the same sex.
Under this procedure, the foreign national obtains legal status in a gradual process. The process is divided according to the Israeli resident’s status: if he or she is a citizen, legal status for the spouse will be granted within a period of 7 years. Within the first 27 months, the foreign national should receive a B-1 work visa. He then receives the status of a temporary resident (A-5), for a cumulative period of 4 years, during which he must apply once a year to extend the relevant Israeli residency permit.
For a same-sex married couple, to whom the same procedure applies, the visa for the foreign partner will be granted just as for a heterosexual couple – that is, half a year on a B-1 visa and four more years on a A-5 visa.
If the Israeli partner is a permanent resident, the foreign partner’s legal status will be arranged over a total of 9 years: for 4 years the foreign partner will reside in Israel on a B-1 visa, to be renewed once a year, and then for 5 additional years on a A-5 visa, also to be renewed once a year.
At the end of the process, the foreign national is granted the status of permanent resident, not the status of citizen (with the possibility of naturalization, under Section 5 of the Citizenship Law, in the future, assuming that the Israeli spouse is also a citizen).
The procedure requires submitting an application to arrange the legal status of the foreign spouse. If he or she is in Israel, both partners must go together to the Interior Ministry office near their place of residence. If the foreign partner is not in Israel, the Israeli spouse alone must submit the application at the Interior Ministry office.
In addition, before starting the above gradual process, the couple must present relevant documents to the Interior Ministry. These documents are a prerequisite for initiating a joint-life application, and the first step in the gradual process (for more information on the documents required, see this article on our site).
In this respect we should note that every official document from another country must be authenticated in accordance with Section 30 of the Evidence Ordinance – 1971. This is done through an Apostille stamp, or via a representative of the Israeli Consulate in the country of origin.
After the initial documents are submitted, the couple is invited to an interview to evaluate the sincerity of the relationship. Assuming the couple passes this interview successfully, the gradual process is then initiated and continues, as noted above, for seven to ten years until the foreign partner obtains residency status.
Arranging legal status in Israel for same-sex partners – development of case law
In the 1990s, when Israel and the rest of the world underwent a process of liberalization regarding homosexual couples, the state began to recognize the institution of common-law marriage – a semi-official institution for couples who were not officially married. In this framework, the state also unofficially granted status to common-law homosexual couples.
In 2000, this policy became official with the publication of the procedure for granting legal standing to spouses of Israelis, including same-sex couples, number 5.2.0009.
Shortly after this procedure was published, however, it became clear that regarding same-sex couples, the Interior Ministry would not implement it in practice. In 2004 the procedure was amended, adding a requirement that if the foreign spouse was residing in Israel, he or she would have to leave the country in order to begin the process of applying for residency. This was in spite of the fact that for married couples, the Supreme Court ruled in the Stamka case that this requirement was not valid.
Therefore, in the administrative appeal “Fred Dieter Rosenberg v. the Interior Ministry”, the Supreme Court ruled that this condition is invalid, and the procedure was subsequently amended to remove the requirement. In practice, however, unmarried same-sex couples with one foreign partner were forced to undergo the process of common-law couples, a process which is longer and more damaging to the couple’s rights. The main differences between the two processes lie in the length of the process – for married couples the process of obtaining residency status for the foreign partner takes four and a half years, compared to seven years for common-law couples. The type of visa given to the foreign partners also differs.
In the case of married couples, the foreign spouse is granted a A-5 visa (temporary residency) after a year and a half. This visa grants her rights such as National Insurance and membership in a health fund. In contrast, a foreign national in a common-law marriage must wait three years to be granted this visa. Likewise, someone holding a B-1 visa is liable for certain taxes that do not apply to a holder of an A-5 visa. Therefore, the difference in processes means significant harm to the couple. Nevertheless, the situation has remained such for many years, in which same-sex couples must follow the process for common-law couples, even if they are officially married.
In 2016, following an appeal by the non-profit organization “Proud Fathers” (NPO Proud Fathers v. the Interior Ministry), the Interior Ministry announced that while it will continue to allow same-sex couples to apply for residency according to the “common-law” procedure, the process will be shortened such that it will be equal to that for married couples, i.e., only four and a half years, during which a B-1 visa is granted for half a year and an A-5 visa for four additional years.
The only remaining difference is that at the end of the process, the foreign spouse will not be eligible to apply for naturalization immediately, as heterosexual spouses can. Instead, the foreign same-sex spouse will only be able to apply for the status of permanent resident. In its announcement to the Supreme Court, however, the Interior Ministry stated that it will allow married same-sex couples to apply for naturalization as soon as they receive permanent residency status, without an additional wait, unlike common-law couples. Thus the differing treatment is relatively harmless.
Regulating the status for foreign spouses from countries that pose security risks
Sometimes an Israeli citizen or resident forms a relationship with a foreign national from a country that is considered to pose a security risk. The Interior Ministry maintains such an internal list, periodically updated, and it includes Morocco, Jordan, Egypt, and more.
These countries are not defined as hostile, and may even have diplomatic relations with Israel, but are still defined as “at risk countries”.
Inviting a spouse from one of these countries is done according to the relevant procedure, that is: the procedure for family unification of married couples, or the procedure for granting legal status to a foreign common-law spouse of an Israeli citizen. For more information on this procedure, see this article on our website.
In addition to the normal procedural requirements, however, inviting a foreign spouse from a risk country involves submitting additional documents, including a detailed “curriculum vitae” questionnaire, which is a security questionnaire in which the foreign spouse is required to supply information on his or her social and family connections. The Interior Ministry passes on this questionnaire to the Israel Security Agency (ISA), which is required to approve the spouse’s entrance to Israel. This security check is in addition to the normal check regarding the sincerity of the relationship.
According to the procedures, ISA is obligated to provide an answer within 90 days, but in reality many months and even years often pass before an answer is given. In such cases, there is no choice but to turn to the relevant court to obtain an answer. Citizens of these countries are not permitted to enter Israel without this permit, and therefore this delay means a long geographical separation between the spouses.
If ISA’s response is positive, the couple continues the normal process.
For more information on arranging a marriage visa for a spouse who is a citizen of a risk country, see this article on our website.
Regulating legal status for foreign spouses who are Palestinians or citizens of hostile countries
Until 2003, an Israeli resident or citizen who was involved with or married to a resident of the area (the Territories) could file a joint-life application. In 2003, a temporary order under the Entry into Israel Law took effect, changing this situation. For more information on marriages between Israelis and Palestinians, see this article on our website.
The temporary order ruled that an Israeli citizen or resident could not file a family unification or joint-life application with an area resident. In special cases, Palestinian spouses will receive temporary residency permits, at the discretion of the Interior Ministry, if the spouse from the area is 35 or older, for a man, or 25 or older for a woman.
It must be emphasized that even if the invited Palestinian spouse meets the age requirement, unlike foreign nationals from other countries, there is no process by which Palestinians can obtain legal status in Israel. The most they can obtain is a residency permit allowing them to stay in Israel, but this is not an actual visa.
Thus, if the foreign spouse is a resident of the region, and meets the age requirements, a joint-life/family unification application can be filed by submitting an application to the local office of the Interior Ministry. The application must include a “resume” form, which is a comprehensive security questionnaire. The form presents a series of questions regarding the invited Palestinian’s life, in which the foreign spouse is required to submit information on his or her social and family ties. The Interior Ministry passes on this questionnaire to the Israel Security Agency (ISA), which is required to approve the spouse’s entrance to Israel. This security check is in addition to the normal check regarding the sincerity of the relationship.
If the ISA grants its approval, the couple submits all the required documents (for a list of the required documents, see this article on our website), and they successfully pass an interview on the sincerity of the relationship (for more information on this interview, see this article), the foreign spouse will still not be given a visa in any form. Rather, he or she will be given a residency permit, a special permit issued for residents of the West Bank territories, which allows them to reside in and sometimes work in Israel. The permit is renewed annually, based on a renewed check, for as long as the couple lives together within Israel. This permit allows only living and working in Israel and does not allow, for example, obtaining an Israeli driving license.
If an Israeli citizen or resident wants to marry or live with a resident of a hostile state (Iran, Syria, Lebanon, or Iraq), it cannot be arranged via family unification. In fact, it is possible only through immigration to Israel, if the spouse is Jewish, or if there is a special humanitarian justification. The regulations state explicitly, however, that separation from the Israeli spouse, or from the couple’s children, is not considered a special humanitarian justification.
An exceptional temporary order was made in the case of a Syrian resident whose spouse is from the Druze community in Israel. In this case, the Syrian resident can obtain a residency permit.
Documents required for opening a joint-life/family unification application
On opening a joint-life application (for an unmarried couple) or a family unification application (for a married couple), a number of documents must be submitted. Some are intended to confirm the partner’s identity and his or her fitness to be in a partnership or marriage, as well as to ensure that he or she does not present a public danger. These basic documents are called “prerequisite documents”. Others, called “center of life documents”, are to prove that the couple’s, or the Israeli spouse’s, center of life is in Israel. The remaining documents are intended to prove the sincerity of the couple’s relationship.
This section will explain the three categories of documents that must be submitted to the Interior Ministry during the process of arranging legal status for a foreign spouse: 1) prerequisite documents; 2) center of life documents; and 3) sincerity of relationship documents.
In this regard we should note that every official document from another country must be authenticated in accordance with Section 30 of the Evidence Ordinance – 1971. This is done through an Apostille stamp, or via a representative of the Israeli Consulate in the country of origin. (You can read more about Apostille stamps in this article.)
Documents in a language other than Hebrew (except for those in English) require a notarized translation into Hebrew. Even though Interior Ministry regulations state that applicants may submit foreign-language documents as long as the officiating Interior Ministry clerk speaks that language, in practice many offices refuse to accept documents in languages other than Hebrew or English, even if the officiating clerk speaks the language (for example, Russian, Arabic, or Amharic).
It is important to note that this is a list which, despite being officially defined ahead of time, may still vary from office to office, and officials are even authorized, at their discretion, to require additional documents not included in this list.
The list includes the following documents.
1) Prerequisite documents
- Birth certificate
- Certificate of good conduct (for all the applicant’s names) issued no more than three months prior to the application
- Certification of the foreign spouse’s marital status (single/married, etc.)
- Marriage license of the couple, if they are married
- Declaration of lack of children or of the children, minors or legal adults, of the foreign spouse
- If the foreign spouse was previously married, a marriage license and divorce certificate
- If the foreign spouse changed his or her name, documentation of the name change
- Passport or photocopy of the passport (if the foreign spouse is not in Israel) of the invited foreign national, valid for at least three years, and the identity card of the Israeli spouse along with a photocopy of said identity card.
- Three passport photographs
2) Center of life documents
- Rental contract / Tabu extract / Certification of rights from the Director regarding the residence of the couple/the Israeli spouse.
- Electricity, water, municipal tax, and gas bills for the apartment for the six months preceding the application. If some or all of the bills are included in the rent, the applicant should bring a declaration from the landlord and details of the bills.
- Cable television and telephone bills for the preceding six months for that apartment.
- Pay slips for the Israeli and the foreign national for the year preceding the application, or certification from an account that one or both are self-employed.
- Bank statements of the Israeli for the preceding six months.
- Residency certification from the local council.
- Documentation of stipends or pensions for someone eligible for them – from the National Insurance Institute, the Housing Ministry, etc.
3) Sincerity of relationship documents
- Photographs of the couple throughout the duration of their relationship, with explanations where and when each photograph was taken, and who appears in each one.
- Letters of recommendation from family and friends in Israel, testifying to the sincerity of the couple’s relationship. For each letter, a copy of the recommending party’s identity card must be attached.
- Copies of emails and Whatsapp correspondence between the couple, with details of date and time of conversation, for a year before the application or for the whole duration of the relationship if less than a year.
- A letter in which the couple explain how they met.
It is important to note that if the couple cannot produce all these documents, or if they did not provide them when they first filed the application, they will be given an extension of time in which to produce all the documents required. Later in the article we will explain the appeal processes that can be undertaken in cases where the couple cannot obtain the required documents.
Sincerity of relationship interview – Interior Ministry officials evaluate the sincerity of the couple’s relationship by interviewing the couple together
After submitting all the documents to the Interior Ministry, an interview will be scheduled with the couple. During the interview, each spouse will be asked certain questions separately, with the intent of subsequently comparing their answers to see if the two spouses’ answers matched. If the foreign spouse is not in Israel, the interview will be conducted simultaneously with the Israeli spouse at the Interior Ministry office, and with the foreign spouse at the Israeli consulate near where he or she resides abroad. Sometimes the foreign spouse will be permitted to enter Israel without a prior interview, at the Interior Ministry’s discretion. In such a case, the interview will be conducted after the foreign national arrives in Israel.
The Interior Ministry considers these interviews to be an essential tool in determining whether the couple’s relationship is real, and many times contradictions during the interview – in the answers given – will be a reason to reject a joint-life application. The interview is the last stage in the process the couple must undergo to obtain the first official visa for the foreign spouse, and thus is highly significant.
Therefore, it is important to find out the reasons for conducting the interview, the type of questions asked, and what is important to know when facing this interview.
Since the interview is conducted face to face, the attending official’s personal impressions carry significant weight, even though such a personal impression alone cannot justify rejecting an application. Even in a case where the official becomes convinced that the relationship is not real, he or she must justify the decision to reject the application. For more information on the obligation to explain official decisions, see this article on our website.
A common reason for rejecting an application for legal status for a foreign spouse is when the two partners’ answers differ for the same question. Such contradictions can be proven, since they appear in the record of the interview, and can enable the Interior Ministry to claim that the couple’s relationship is fictitious and intended solely for the purpose of obtaining a visa for the foreign spouse. For more information on contradictions in the interview, see this article on our website.
The questions asked in the interview are constantly changing, and the type of questions varies significantly depending on whether the couple has lived together a long time in Israel, or whether the couple lives apart with the foreign spouse living abroad.
Certain questions are asked in almost every interview: for example, questions such as How did the couple meet? Where do they work? What is their family status? How many children does each one have? How many sisters and brothers?
For an interview with a couple who live together, there will be questions regarding their daily life together, such as: number of rooms in the apartment, their daily routine, the color of the curtains in a certain room, etc. In contrast, for a couple living apart (where the foreign spouse is not yet in Israel), the couple will be asked questions regarding the depth of their relationship: for example, if one of them has a medical issue, the other will be asked if he or she knows of this issue; or they may be asked why their spouses divorced their previous partners, how frequently the other partner speaks with close family members, and other similar questions.
Almost every interview will close with a question about the preceding day: what did you talk about in a conversation this morning or yesterday evening? What did you eat for breakfast? Who did you see in the last 24 hours? Etc.
How can contradictions be avoided?
Most couples who are in a real relationship do not run into difficulties during the interview, but there are still quite a number of couples with real relationships who still have contradictions in their interviews. Sometimes this is due to stress, and sometimes simply because what is important to one partner is not as important to the other.
Couples who are together for many years, for example, may have difficulty remembering what they did on the last birthday of one of them, or what gift they were given. Of course, there are also cultural differences. For example, in Israel we call an apartment with two bedrooms and a living room “a three-room apartment”, whereas in many countries only the bedrooms are counted, such that many stumble over what appears to be a simple question.
Therefore, it is wise to review a list of common questions before the interview, just to prevent such situations. Moreover, it is important not to guess the answers. If you don’t know an answer, it is always better to say so than to try and make up an answer, which is likely to contradict your spouse’s answer.
It is important to note that Interior Ministry officials are authorized to ask whatever question they like, unless they violate the applicant’s privacy. Questions about intimate relations, for example, are not permitted, and if such a question is asked, you have the right to refuse to answer.
An attorney’s tips for passing the Interior Ministry’s interview for couples:
- It is preferable not to use definitive words like “never/always/every day/only”, etc. Even if you are the one who always washes the dishes, your partner could remember that last week she washed one cup – saying that she also washes dishes, and thus creating a contradiction in the interview.
- Make your answers brief, and don’t get into minute details that your spouse may not remember.
- Don’t answer in haste. If you are unsure, you can say that you are not sure, but it seems to you that… Take a minute to think before you answer, and answer calmly.
Reasons for rejecting an application or refusing to grant legal status to a foreign spouse
Receiving a rejection is never pleasant, but refusal of a joint-life application is particularly difficult, because it literally means that the couple cannot live together in Israel. The one bright spot in this case is that if the couple’s relationship is sincere and honest, particularly if it is of long duration, proper legal handling of the case has a good chance of leading to a successful outcome. Therefore, it is essential to seek legal counsel immediately upon receiving rejection of an application.
There are many reasons for the Interior Ministry to reject an application. In this article we will summarize the main reasons and discuss each one of them.
Contradictions in the interview
The most common reason for a rejected application is contradictions in the interview with the couple. As explained in this article, contradictions are easy to prove and provide the Interior Ministry with an easy solution if they form a negative impression of the couple. The fact is that there is almost no interview without contradictions – but most of them are not significant.
The court has ruled that contradictions in the interview cannot constitute the sole reason for rejecting an application (in the Olga Trikolitz ruling, based on statements by the Supreme Court regarding other matters). In addition, various courts have ruled that in the case where the couple do not live together, contradictions in the interview – even those that appear essential – are not by themselves an indication of the relationship’s sincerity. This is because couples who do not live together, by definition, do not know each other as well as couples that do live together.
Likewise, given that the foreign national is often interviewed in the presence of a translator, the translation is often not “word for word”, and sometimes it becomes clear that the issue was an imprecise translation.
It is even possible to explain the contradictions to the Interior Ministry in the framework of an appeal, clarifying why they are not fundamental.
Sometimes the Interior Ministry claims that there are contradictions in the interview even when the second partner answered correctly on a factual question regarding her spouse, while the first partner gave a “wrong” answer regarding himself. Such a case was brought to court, in which the former husband of the wife had been murdered, though when she was asked about him, she said that he had died in an accident, while her Israeli spouse knew to answer that he had been murdered. This is not an isolated case, and such things happen for various reasons; therefore the court ruled that the Interior Ministry could not use this issue to claim that the relationship was not sincere, given that it was clear that the wife knew that her former husband had been murdered, and apparently a misunderstanding or translation error had occurred.
Difficulty proving the sincerity of the relationship
Often the Interior Ministry rejects an application claiming that the relationship is not sincere. Thus, for example, a frequent reason for rejection is the claim that the relationship is not conjugal, but rather a matter of convenience, or a patient-carer relationship, in which one of the partners is originally a nursing patient, even if being cared for by someone else. Statements by the couple, indicating that there is no love between them and they are staying together for other reasons, can also lead to a rejection of the application on the grounds that the relationship is not sincere. For more information on arranging legal status in a relationship between an Israeli citizen and a Filipino foreign caretaker, see this article on our website.
The sincerity of the relationship is generally evaluated on the basis of two criteria. The first is that the couple is maintaining a joint household — an objective criterion that is relatively easy to prove by presenting bills, etc. The second is that the couple are not just living together as roommates, but as a conjugal pair, with everything that being in a relationship involves. This criterion is harder to prove because it is subjective. (On this matter, see the Supreme Court ruling regarding Avner Oren.)
In the Supreme Court ruling Yon v. the Interior Ministry (1173/07), which dealt with an appeal by a couple with a significant age difference between them, so that the wife even required nursing care, and her foreign spouse acted as her caretaker, Judge Prokatzia wrote:
“One must be aware of the fact that there are many kinds of relationships between people, and there may be real relationships between couples even in cases where the situations of the people involved do not fit into accepted and familiar frameworks. People who meet each other at a certain stage in their lives, may create real relationships even if this type of relationship has no peer in the familiar, natural surroundings, and even if it is difficult to categorize the relationship into an accepted formula. Therefore, the licensed authority must relate to this issue with great openness, and investigate it with sensitivity and caution, so as not to cause harm to innocent appellants, if in fact their relationship is real, even if it differs from standard, accepted relationships in any way.”
Many times, in delivering a decision that the relationship is not sincere, the Interior Ministry tends to give weight to minor statements by the couple, or else emphasize certain facts which support the stand that the relationship is not sincere. Therefore, it is crucial to submit the documents listed in this article, appropriately and in detail, since in such cases, the Interior Ministry is not authorized to ignore other evidence that in fact the relationship is sincere. Thus, for example, in some court cases, the existence of detailed letters from family and friends tipped the scale in favor of the couple (i.e. the Rita Julia ruling). Proof of joint entertainment and vacations, or familiarity with the family members and documentation of such familiarity, can also help prove the sincerity of the relationship.
Another common problem in proving the sincerity of the relationship is when either the Israeli spouse or the foreign spouse is still registered as “married” in the Israeli population registry, or has not managed to complete divorce proceedings abroad, because of a religious problem, or lack of cooperation by the former spouse. Clearly, if a couple opens a joint-life application while either the Israeli or the foreign spouse are still legally registered as married, this is a significant problem, and would appear to be proof that the sincerity of their relationship is in doubt.
In short, in such situations it is essential to take all possible legal steps to end the previous marriage, or bring documents proving that it is impossible to divorce or to dissolve the marriage, and therefore the process should be continued with the Interior Ministry even though the spouse’s current status is “married”. For more information on arranging legal status for a foreign spouse while the Israeli partner is still officially married, see this article.
In addition, it has been ruled in many cases that even if the relationship’s sincerity is in doubt, the Interior Ministry must approve continuing the application process and reassess the relationship’s sincerity in the following year, given that the process is protracted. The Interior Ministry’s stand was accepted by the courts only in cases where the court was convinced that, without doubt, the relationship was not sincere.
Difficulties obtaining documents
Often the documents submitted by the couple do not meet the Interior Ministry’s requirements, and they are required to bring other documents. Thus, for example, on a document which appears adequate to an inexperienced eye, it may turn out that the apostille on it is incorrect and verifies the wrong signature. Likewise, the couple are not always prepared ahead of time with all the documents, and then they require additional time to assemble the documentation.
Another repeated problem for couples applying to the Interior Ministry for legal status of a foreign spouse is obtaining a certificate of unmarried status for the foreign spouse. This certificate is required to prove that he or she is not married to someone else in the country of origin. The problem is that some countries do not issue such certification, or that difficulties arise in obtaining it, after the couple has already gotten married. For more information on obtaining a certificate of unmarried status, see this article.
In accordance with the procedure for joint life or family unification applications, Interior Ministry officials routinely give couples a period of 45 days, from the day of application, to produce whatever documents are missing. In many cases this period is not enough to obtain the original documents from other countries and verify them according to law, and the delay in presenting the documents leads the Interior Ministry to decide to close the application file.
In other cases, it is impossible to obtain the required document. Some countries simply do not produce the documents required by the Interior Ministry. Moreover, a foreigner often comes from a country that is in a state of war, for example, making it impossible to obtain the required documents for that reason.
It is possible to prevent such eventualities by engaging the professional services of an attorney experienced in the field. The attorney can ensure that the documents are correct before they are submitted, or assist in obtaining the necessary documents that are missing. Likewise, the recent court ruling in Yael Eisenberg v. the Population and Immigration Authority, 4789-12-16 (Administrative Appeal, Tel Aviv court), stated that the Interior Ministry must open an application file for the couple even though they could not produce the required documents from the Sudanese authorities.
An attorney experienced in this field can instruct you as to which substitute document can be obtained in a case where the foreign spouse’s country of origin does not issue the required document. The attorney can also assist in obtaining an extension from the Interior Ministry in order to get documents that are delayed.
Illegal residence in Israel by the foreign spouse
Sometimes an Israeli citizen falls in love with a foreign national and applies to arrange her status with the Interior Ministry, only to find out that she is an illegal resident in Israel, or has applied for political asylum. When a foreign spouse is an illegal resident, the Interior Ministry’s impression of the relationship’s sincerity is critical. This is because a ruling (in the Supreme Court case of Yehudit Butovsky) states that when one partner of a common law couple is an illegal resident, the burden of proof is much higher than normal.
In cases where the Interior Ministry is unconvinced of the relationship’s sincerity, and the foreign spouse is residing illegally in Israel, the Ministry can even demand that the foreign spouse leave the country. After the departure of the foreign spouse who was residing in Israel illegally, the Israeli spouse can reapply to bring in the foreign spouse, now residing abroad.
Israeli immigration courts have issued contradictory rulings on such cases. Some of the judges have ruled that this requirement is logical and reasonable, and others have ruled the opposite. As a rule, the process of a joint-life application when one of the partners is illegally residing in Israel is likely to take more time than usual, and it is important to unequivocally establish the sincerity of the relationship in such cases. If the woman is pregnant, for example, this can help the matter significantly, since this fact supports the sincerity of the relationship and constitutes a significant rationale for continuing residence in Israel.
A criminal record for the Israeli or foreign spouse
A family unification or joint-life application submitted to the Interior Ministry office includes an essential prerequisite document – a certificate of good conduct for the foreign national. In addition, when the application is submitted, even before the visa is actually granted, the Interior Ministry sends a query to the police to check for a criminal record of either spouse in Israel.
When the Israeli has a criminal record, this does not usually mean a refusal to accept the application. The regulations allow refusal of the application only in a few cases: if the Israeli is currently serving a prison term, or a criminal case is still open against him which could lead to his imprisonment, or of course if the Israeli spouse’s crimes are connected to trafficking in women, for example. If the Interior Ministry refuses to accept the application even though none of these categories applies, it is important to get legal assistance immediately. For more information on an Israeli with a criminal record bringing in a foreign spouse, see this article.
If, however, it is the foreign spouse who has a criminal record, the situation is entirely different. Of course the state of Israel does not want to grant legal status to foreign nationals with criminal records who could endanger the Israeli public. First of all, if a foreign national has a record of a security crime, the state is authorized to refuse entry without any explanation. Second, even if the crime is not related to security, the Interior Ministry is authorized to refuse the application. In this case, however, it must weigh several factors, according to which it will decide whether the foreign national does in fact represent a danger to the Israeli public, and therefore whether or not to permit his or her entrance to Israel. The guiding ruling for this issue is the Supreme Court decision 876/07, Nihad Kasey v. the Interior Ministry. The considerations are: severity of the violation; number of violations; the amount of time since the violation was committed; the circumstances under which the violation was committed; rehabilitation undergone by the foreign national; and more.
In other words, the less severe the violation and the more time since it was committed, the higher the foreign spouse’s chances of entering Israel. For more information on inviting a foreign spouse to Israel and obtaining legal status, in the case where he or she has a criminal record, see this article on our website.
The Israeli spouse’s citizenship is in question
Many Israeli citizens have immigrated legally to Israel and obtained their citizenship. There are cases in which such an immigrant invites a foreign spouse to Israel, and in the process, the Interior Ministry questions the validity of the immigrant’s citizenship. This problematic situation is primarily common among immigrants from the former Soviet Union. Many immigrated to Israel under the Law of Return, but at present, even after many years of residence in Israel, the Interior Ministry may question their right to Israeli citizenship.
Revocation of citizenship for someone who immigrated to Israel is a possibility in certain situations, and must be done within three years of the citizenship being granted. After that time, the Interior Ministry can revoke citizenship only via a court order. For more information on the revocation of citizenship that was fraudulently obtained, or other rationales for revoking citizenship, see this article. Occasionally the citizenship revocation process is drawn out for years, and during this period, the Interior Ministry refuses to grant legal status to the foreign spouse, on the grounds that legal status cannot be granted based on citizenship that is itself under question.
The court has ruled, however, that the longer the process is drawn out, with no answer or even real progress on the part of the Interior Ministry towards revoking the citizenship, delaying legal status for the foreign spouse is less and less justifiable, to the point where such delay becomes entirely indefensible. For more information on the Interior Ministry’s obligation to continue the gradual process for foreign spouses, even when there is an apparent doubt regarding the Israeli spouse’s citizenship, see this article.
Illegitimate reasons for the Interior Ministry to refuse legal status to foreign spouses
Under the law, a government agency must act equitably, and not discriminate against any applicants for its services. The authority must take into account only relevant factors when making decisions, and is forbidden to consider religion, race, sex, political affiliation, or any other irrelevant factor. Unfortunately, many times this is not the case in practice.
Illegitimate considerations is a claim that is hard to prove. Many times it appears that an application is refused because the couple is same-sex, or because one of the spouses is a controversial figure or a known political activist. In practice, however, it is difficult to prove such a claim. In such cases, when there is suspicion of illegitimate considerations by the Interior Ministry, it is particularly important to obtain legal counsel and assistance at the earliest possible opportunity.
Court rulings regarding legal status for foreign spouses, whose applications were rejected by the Interior Ministry on illegitimate grounds, show that there are several issues in which the Interior Ministry tends to bring illegitimate considerations to bear on Israelis’ applications for foreign spouses’ legal status. The clearest cases are those in which the Israeli, or the foreign spouse, is involved in missionary activity, or even if one of the spouses simply identifies as a Messianic Jew.
In practice, missionary activity in general, i.e. spreading Christianity or some other religion, is not forbidden in Israel. Certain specific forms are forbidden, such as granting favors in order to convert someone, or soliciting minors to convert. Interior Ministry officials, however, tend to introduce illegitimate considerations in many cases involving couples suspected to be missionaries, whether they are actively proselytizing or not. Courts have viewed such cases as instances of illegitimate considerations. In cases where it was clearly proven that the Interior Ministry treated this factor as a serious consideration in evaluating the couple’s relationship, courts have ruled such cases to be instances of illegitimate considerations.
Likewise, a known activist in a political organization not currently in the government’s favor may run into similar difficulties. Former Israeli prisoners, primarily those accused of sex crimes, are also likely to face the problem of illegitimate considerations. This is despite the fact that the Interior Ministry is forbidden to take into account crimes of the Israeli spouse if he or she has already served jail time for them, no matter how many years have passed or how much the person has been rehabilitated.
Therefore, it is important to obtain expert legal assistance – preferably at the earliest possible stage of the process, before submitting the initial application – if the couple suspects that illegitimate considerations may be used against them.
Application denied due to large age gap between the spouses
In some cases there is a significant age difference between the spouses (more than fifteen or twenty years). A significant age gap is not an “official” reason to refuse an application, but in such cases, the Interior Ministry tends to find another reason for refusal, when in fact the age gap is the real reason.
In many court rulings regarding refusal for a couple with a large age gap, when the Interior Ministry claimed that the relationship did not appear sincere, it is evident that they were relating to the age gap (Yun v. the Interior Ministry, for example).
First of all, therefore, couples with a significant difference in age are advised not to apply directly to the Interior Ministry on their own. Instead, they are advised to obtain the assistance of an attorney with expertise in the field, in order to do everything possible to avoid litigation.
Second, in such cases it is of utmost importance to ensure that all documentation is obtained to prove the relationship’s sincerity, and to avoid any statements indicating that the relationship is one of convenience or has a financial basis, rather than being a real spousal relationship.
In practice, courts generally rule that an age gap cannot be a real reason to deny an application. However, courts have sometimes upheld a refusal which was based on an age gap combined with difficulties producing evidence of the relationship’s sincerity.
Procedures for appealing an Interior Ministry decision to refuse legal status for the foreign spouse
After you have submitted all the documents, waited impatiently for an interview, gone to the Interior Ministry on the appointed day and answered all the questions, now you have received written notification that your application has been rejected. What next? How do you move forward? What are your options? It is important to note that Interior Ministry officials reject many requests for granting legal status to foreign spouses in Israel. If, however, the couple has a sincere relationship and are willing to fight and insist to the authorities that they are indeed a couple for all intents and purposes, they will generally manage to convince the relevant officials, even if they must endure a grueling legal process along the way.
Internal appeal to the Interior Ministry
Legal proceedings against the Interior Ministry are part of an administrative procedure – like litigation against most of the state’s institutions. This means that it is not possible to turn to the court directly upon receiving the rejection, but rather the process must be completed via the authority itself first. The procedure regulating this matter is the procedure for handling requests and appeals on decisions made by the offices and headquarters of the Population and Immigration Authority, number 1.6.0001. For more information on this procedure, see this article on our website.
The decision not to open an application is considered one that requires an internal appeal to the Interior Ministry itself, according to the above procedure. The procedure states that an internal appeal must be filed within 21 days of receiving the rejection, and the appeal must be filed with the authority above the decision-maker, according to the list set out in the procedure.
The appeal is submitted in writing by the appellants themselves, or by an attorney acting on their behalf. This internal appeal must specify all the reasons why the Interior Ministry’s decision is mistaken, on either the factual or legal level. Many times the Interior Ministry’s decisions are not properly substantiated, which is in itself a good reason to appeal. A decision may merely state that the request was rejected because the relationship’s sincerity is in question, without explaining the source of the doubt, or it may trace the rejection to contradictions in the interview without specifying them. Both of these would be improper decisions, because the authority is required by law to substantiate any decision it makes.
Since the appeal is a legal appeal for all intents and purposes, which if rejected will require filing an appeal with the appellate court, it is recommended that you not draft it yourselves, but rather that you turn to a professional, an attorney who specializes in the field. This is even more essential because if the appeal goes to the appellate court, under the Entrance to Israel Law, the text of the internal appeal is given significant weight, and arguments not presented in the internal appeal cannot always be brought up subsequently in the appellate court.
Appealing to the appellate court
Once an internal appeal is submitted, the Interior Ministry’s decision is not always promptly forthcoming. Months may pass with no answer, often in cases where time is not on the couple’s side. A spouse who has lost his or her work visa following the rejection, or who is required to leave the country and is at risk of deportation, cannot wait many months for a decision on the internal appeal.
In such cases, the Entry into Israel Law enables the applicants to submit an appeal for a decision to be reached – an appeal whose sole purpose is to force the Interior Ministry to make a decision on the internal appeal. After receiving the decision, whether positive or negative, this appeal is generally stricken from the record and sometimes small sums for expenses will be granted to the couple.
A significant advantage to filing such an appeal is the option to apply for an interim order at the same time – a court order that can instruct, for example, to extend a visa that is still valid until the decision is made; the most common order is one to prevent deportation of the foreign spouse until the decision is made.
If the Interior Ministry issues a decision on the internal appeal, without the need to submit an appeal to the Appeals Court, and the decision is negative, an appeal must be submitted to the Appeals Court within 30 days of receiving the decision. For more information on the Appeals Court according to the Entrance to Israel Law, see this article.
The Appeals Court will consider the appeal in light of the Entry into Israel Law and relevant regulations, and is not even required to hold an oral hearing – though in most cases an oral hearing is in fact held.
The Appeals Court ruling can take one of three forms. First, the court can accept the appeal and direct the Interior Ministry to reopen the case while granting the appropriate visa to the foreign spouse. Second, the court can reject the appeal and require the foreign spouse to leave Israel. The third option, which is the most common, is that the court nullifies the Interior Ministry’s decision and returns the case to the Interior Ministry for renewed discussion. Such a ruling means that the Interior Ministry will need to reassess the case and issue another decision.
The Administrative Court
Even when an appeal is rejected by the Appeals Court, the process is not necessarily over. The Appeals Court decision can be appealed to the Regional Court, sitting as the Administrative Court. The same judges who normally sit on the Regional Court hear the case as an Administrative Court. This appeal must be submitted within 45 days of receiving the Appeals Court judgement.
Here as well, an interim order can be requested together with the appeal – an order which can instruct, for instance, to extend a still-valid visa until a decision is reached; the most common order is one that prevents the foreign spouse’s deportation until the court decision is reached.
The Administrative Court is required to hear the statutory appeal; but it is important to note that every appeal requires deposit of a guarantee before the case will be heard – the sum in question can range from 2,000 NIS to 10,000 NIS or more. This sum is intended to ensure payment of expenses to the respondent –in this is case, the Interior Ministry – in the event that the appeal is rejected.
Appealing to the Supreme Court
If the Administrative Court rejects the appeal, there is one final option – submitting a request for an appeal to the Supreme Court. The odds for this request being granted are far lower than the odds in the Administrative Court, and many requests are rejected outright – meaning that the cases are not heard by the Supreme Court.
That being said, there are cases in which the requests are accepted and the appeal is heard. In these cases, the Supreme Court can rule in the favor of the couple – and require that the application be opened and a visa given; it can reject the appeal after deciding to hear it; or it can choose to return the request to the Administrative Court, after nullifying the original ruling and pointing out its deficiencies. Another possible outcome is an agreement between the two sides, wherein the Interior Ministry commits to reassessing its decision to reject the application.
Here as well, an interim order may be requested together with the appeal – an order which can instruct, for instance, to extend a still-valid visa until a decision is reached; the most common order is one that prevents deportation until the court decision is reached.
Termination of the gradual process due to death of the Israeli spouse, violence, or termination of the relationship
The gradual process can be terminated for a number of reasons. This section deals with cases in which the process is terminated not because of the Interior Ministry’s refusal, but due to circumstances related to the couple.
The primary procedure regulating this issue is procedure no. 5.2.0017, the procedure for handling termination of the gradual process for the foreign spouse of an Israeli. This article reviews the various causes for terminating the process, what can be done after the process has been stopped, and what is the foreign partner’s legal status in this situation. For more information on termination of the process of establishing legal status for a foreign spouse, following death or termination of the spousal relationship, see this article.
Termination of the gradual process due to death of the Israeli spouse
The death of a spouse is a real trauma at any age, and the period following a spouse’s death is a difficult one. When the surviving spouse is a foreign national, whose legal status depends on his or her spouse, the death of the Israeli spouse also has direct implications for the foreign spouse’s status. He or she is forced to fight for the right to stay in Israel, in addition to mourning the death of the Israeli spouse.
Upon receiving notification of the death of the Israeli spouse, the Interior Ministry must invite the foreign spouse to an interview at the Interior Ministry office. The interview must be conducted within 45 days from the day the Ministry received the death notification, and the foreign spouse is obligated to appear for the interview. If he does not appear, his residency permit is cancelled, and he will receive a notice in the mail stating that the gradual process has been terminated, his visa is cancelled, and he must leave Israel within 14 days. Therefore, if the foreign spouse cannot attend the interview on the scheduled day, it is essential that he notify the Interior Ministry and reschedule the appointment.
Until the decision has been issued (after the interview), the Interior Ministry cannot cancel the visa held by the foreign spouse. Accordingly, the Interior Ministry must extend the visa if necessary. The interview in the case of a death is to determine whether the foreign spouse is eligible to have his case referred to the Inter-Ministerial Committee (also known as the “Humanitarian Committee”), based on a series of criteria set out in the procedure.
If the couple has children together, the criteria for referring the case to the Committee are:
- The relationship was sincere and real, and an application had been filed for the foreign spouse’s legal status under the joint life or family unification procedure.
- As part of the process, the foreign spouse received a A-5 visa.
- The common children are under the care of the foreign spouse.
In a case where the couple had no children together, the criteria for referring the case to the Humanitarian Committee are:
- The relationship was sincere and real, and an application had been filed to arrange the foreign spouse’s legal status under the joint life or family unification procedure.
- As part of the process, the foreign spouse received a temporary (A-5) visa.
- The foreign spouse holds the A-5 visa for more than two years.
- Throughout the gradual process, there was never a doubt of the sincerity of the couple’s relationship.
- If the first four criteria are fulfilled, the case will be heard by the Committee and the foreign spouse will be interviewed to determine his or her connection to Israel.
A regional court has ruled that, under the procedure, in the case of the death of the Israeli spouse, if there are common children and other criteria are satisfied, no significant weight should be given to the foreign spouse’s connection to his or her country of origin. Rather, the court ruled, the spouse should be granted legal status, primarily for the children’s benefit. This ruling has not been published.
In a case where the couple had no common children, however, as long as the other criteria are met, the main consideration is the foreign spouse’s connection to Israel. An examination of the predominance of connections evaluates the foreign national’s connections in Israel, compared to his or her connections in the country of origin. Thus, for example, his family connections in Israel will be evaluated relative to those in the country of origin: what are his relations with his family here and in his country of origin — siblings, children, etc. His period of residence in Israel will also be examined, whether he speaks the language, what his profession is here. In addition, his material connections will be examined: whether he owns significant assets here in Israel, since this can be a significant consideration in permitting him to stay.
Termination of the gradual process due to termination of the spousal relationship
If the couple have children together, an interview will be scheduled. The main purpose of the interview is to determine whether the relationship is in fact terminated, since it can happen that one spouse, in a moment of anger, announces the termination of the relationship and the legal process, and then the couple gets back together shortly thereafter. In such a case, proper handling of the process termination interview is essential, and the couple must make sure that this interview verifies that they have not in fact terminated their relationship.
If the spousal relationship is terminated due to separation of the spouses, and the couple has no common children, the foreign spouse no longer has the right to remain in Israel. Yet, even in such cases, the Interior Ministry must invite the couple to an interview, to be held within 45 days of notification of their separation. In such a case, the foreign spouse’s visa will be extended until the date of the interview. Only after the interview is it possible to declare termination of the process and deportation of the foreign spouse.
On the other hand, if the relationship has in fact ceased and the couple have children together, the interview is intended to determine whether the foreign spouse meets the criteria for referring the case to the Humanitarian Committee. These are the criteria:
- The foreign spouse was in a real, sincere relationship and applied for legal status based on that relationship.
- The foreign spouse received a A-5 visa as part of that process.
- The foreign spouse has held the temporary visa (A-5) for more than two years.
- The couple have common children who are under the foreign spouse’s care, or he or she maintains ongoing, close contact with them, and provides for their food and other needs. Regarding the children, a professional opinion by a welfare official/government social worker states that if the foreign spouse leaves Israel, it will significantly harm the children’s welfare.
In such cases, the case will be referred to the Humanitarian Committee.
Termination of the gradual process due to violence
In the event that the spousal relationship is terminated due to violence on the part of the Israeli spouse, the relevant procedure is the one for terminating the gradual process of granting legal status to a foreign spouse due to this cause, number 5.2.0019. For more information on this situation, see this article.
It is important to explain that even if the relationship is terminated due to violence, and even if the couple has common children, this does not “automatically” grant the foreign spouse the right (or in legal terms – acquired right) to stay in Israel. Rather, the matter must be reviewed based on the applicable regulations. (On this matter, one can read the Supreme Court ruling 7938/17, Anon. vs the Population Authority.)
Note that this procedure only applies to married couples, and only if they have already begun the gradual process.
The procedure applies whenever a notification is issued that the gradual process has been terminated due to violence on the part of the Israeli spouse (a notification that may come from a third party, not only from the couple themselves), and the violence claim has been proven to the Interior Ministry.
How can a violence claim be proven?
A claim of violence on the part of the Israeli spouse can be proven in one of several ways (that is to say, fulfillment of one of these criteria suffices):
- A stay of a month or longer in a women’s shelter for the protection and treatment of women and children who have suffered abuse.
- The police hold alleged proof that a violent offense has been committed.
- The family court has granted the foreign spouse protection from the Israeli spouse, following a hearing at which both sides were present.
- Confirmation can be provided that the spouse is recognized or treated for domestic violence on the part of the Israeli partner. Such confirmation is certified by the social services department of the municipality/municipal council (the Welfare Department), or the Center for the Prevention and Treatment of Domestic Violence in the Welfare Ministry.
On receipt of the notification, the spouses will be summoned individually for separate interviews. If the foreign spouse fails to show up for the interview, a message rejecting the application is not issued automatically, but rather the Interior Ministry must determine whether there is reasonable cause for the absence. Only in the case when no reasonable cause can be found, the foreign spouse’s residency permit will be cancelled and an order will be sent by mail directing him or her to leave the country within 14 days.
The interview will evaluate the foreign spouse’s intention to remain and settle in Israel. Following the interview, the case will be transferred for evaluation by an office-level committee, rather than the humanitarian committee at this point. The foreign spouse’s visa will be extended until a decision is made regarding the request.
If the office-level committee decides to terminate the gradual process due to violence, and if there are common children, it is possible to transfer the case to the Humanitarian Committee for hearing, under the following conditions:
- Proof of domestic violence (in one of the forms described above).
- The couple has a common child who is in full custody of the foreign spouse or with whom the foreign spouse has an ongoing, caretaking relationship and pays alimony, and a social worker or welfare officer has issued an opinion that having the foreign spouse leave the country will significantly harm the child.
If the couple has no children together, it is possible for the case to be heard by the Humanitarian Committee under the following conditions:
- The couple were married in a sincere marriage and were registered as married in the Population Registry.
- The foreign spouse received an A-5 visa (temporary) as a part of the gradual process.
- The foreign spouse has held an A-5 visa (temporary) for two years or longer.
- The foreign spouse claimed to suffer violence before the termination of the spousal relationship, and has proved the claim in one of the ways described above.
If the aforementioned conditions are met, an interview will be held for the foreign spouse at the Population and Immigration Authority office. This interview will examine the foreign spouse’s connection to Israel, including: existence of relatives in Israel and abroad, level of integration in Israel, existing assets in Israel and abroad, visits made abroad while residing in Israel, social rights, etc.
In a case where the claim of violence is proven but some or all of the remaining criteria for a Humanitarian Committee hearing are not met, it may be possible to convince the office-level committee that there are “special humanitarian circumstances”.
In this case, the office-level committee will transfer the case to the desk head for review, and he or she will decide whether to transfer the case to the Humanitarian Committee.
If the case is indeed transferred to the Committee, in all of the instances explained in this article, the committee is entitled to make a recommendation (which is generally implemented) that one of the following visas be issued:
- A B-1 visa for a year, which may be extended for another year, up to a total of two years, after which the case will be transferred back to the desk head for another review.
- An A-5 visa for a year, which may be extended for another year, after which the case will be transferred back to the desk head for another review.
In the event that the Committee rejects the request, it is possible to follow the procedure for filing of appeals and decisions, as explained in this article.
Israeli residence visa is valid for the duration of the gradual process
If the spouse is residing in Israel illegally, whether the residence visa expired after the initial application was filed with the Interior Ministry or long before then, he or she will not be deported so long as the case is being handled by the Interior Ministry.
The joint life and family unification procedures state that from the time an application is filed, law enforcement measures will not be taken against the foreign spouse. That is – as long as the case is open, even if the process has not officially begun, the foreign spouse will not be deported. In addition, the spouse will not be arrested for illegal residence – although he or she can still be arrested for working (in an illegal manner) or for any other violations of the law.
Many times, the Interior Ministry’s refusal to open an application is accompanied by an order directing the foreign spouse leave Israel within a few days, between 7 to 30 days (usually 14 days). If the foreign spouse does not abide by this order, he or she may be arrested by the immigration police at the end of the allotted period, imprisoned and deported.
To avoid this situation, it is essential to file an internal appeal (read more on filing an internal appeal in this article) before the allotted time is up, even if it is less time than the legal minimum for filing an internal appeal. It is important to understand, however, that under Interior Ministry regulations, filing an internal appeal does not prevent deportation or arrest of the foreign spouse. In practice, however, unofficially, the immigration police do not tend to arrest and deport spouses who have filed an internal appeal on which the decision is pending.
In the event that the police arrest the foreign spouse anyway, legal representation should be sought immediately to obtain his or her release. In such cases the appellate courts, who are authorized to decide such issues, tend to order the foreign spouse’s release.
The final stage – permanent residence or citizenship?
Congratulations! After many years of dealing with the Interior Ministry, year after year, you have finally reached the end of the gradual procedure, and your partner, the foreign citizen, is finally entitled to file a final request for permanent status in Israel. Must he or she become a citizen? Is that worthwhile? What is the meaning and what are the ramifications of becoming a citizen? And how is it done?
Firstly, it is important to remember that the foreign partner is not always entitled to apply for citizenship. If the couple are not married, the partner will be entitled to receive status as a permanent resident but not a citizen.
In addition, if the Israeli partner is a permanent resident rather than a citizen, then the foreign partner, even in the event of marriage, will be entitled to request permanent residence status but not citizenship.
Application process upon completion of the Interior Ministry’s gradual process
Permanent residence status:
The process of applying for permanent residence status, upon completion of the gradual process, is virtually identical to that of the annual extension of the A-5 (temporary resident) visa. An appropriate application form for change of status must be submitted, in the presence of both partners at the bureau, with attached documents regarding the center of life and sincerity of the relationship in the preceding year, as detailed in this article. These are the same documents required for each visa extension throughout the gradual process. The application and supporting documents should be filed in advance – at least three months, in order to leave time to set up an interview.
Once the documents are submitted, a relationship sincerity interview will be held. As long as the impression from the interview is positive, the foreign spouse will be granted permanent residence status.
Once permanent residence is approved, the foreign spouse will be granted legal status under the relevant regulation for granting in practice/extending license for temporary residence A-5 and license for permanent residence, number 5.2.0023. Note that most of the documents listed in the procedure – official documents such as birth certificate, name change, personal status, etc., have already been submitted to the Interior Ministry, so they only need to be submitted again if a change has occurred.
Additionally, if the foreign spouse has resided abroad for long periods of time, he or she is sometimes required to submit an updated certificate of good conduct.
The process of becoming a citizen upon completion of the gradual process, for those eligible, is regulated by the procedure for granting status to a foreign spouse married to an Israeli. For more information on this procedure, see this article.
Someone who applies for citizenship under Section 7 of the Citizenship Law, after successfully completing the gradual procedure, must notify the bureau of this application three months prior to the expiration of his or her A-5 license. This application must also be submitted to the bureau in the presence of both spouses, and must include center of life and relationship sincerity documents for the preceding year, as well as any other relevant documents requested by the Interior Ministry officials.
The director of the bureau will approve the application for citizenship, but the approval process usually takes several months, even after all the documents have been submitted.
If citizenship is approved, a date will be set for a naturalization ceremony, which must be attended by both spouses. The spouse receiving citizenship will sign affidavits and documents, pledge allegiance to the state of Israel, and then receive the long-awaited citizenship.
Citizenship or permanent residence?
What is the difference between the status of a permanent resident in Israel and Israeli citizenship? The primary difference between a permanent resident and a citizen is that an Israeli citizen holds an Israeli passport, whereas a permanent resident continues to hold the passport of the country of origin.
In addition, permanent residence is contingent on the resident living within Israeli borders, whereas citizenship, once granted, is not dependent on living in Israel. A citizen may lose his or her residence status by settling in another country, but can renew it upon returning to Israel, since he or she is a citizen –as long as the citizenship has not been forfeited. Permanent residents, on the other hand, are not entitled to do so; if they leave Israel for certain periods of time, they may lose their right to return to Israel as residents.
Therefore, the status granted to the foreign spouse at the end of the procedure is of the utmost importance, and the choice of status, if a choice is given, must be made carefully.
Some countries do not allow their citizens to hold additional citizenships, so the foreign spouse must make sure that his or her country of origin allows multiple citizenships before choosing to become an Israeli citizen. If accepting Israeli citizenship means forfeiting the foreign citizenship, the foreign spouse may decide to apply for permanent residence instead, so as not to lose his or her status in the country of origin.
It can happen that, for whatever reason, the Interior Ministry refuses citizenship to a spouse eligible for it, and grants permanent residence instead. In such a case, it is important to seek legal assistance immediately. Our firm has handled a number of cases in which, based on irrelevant considerations (for instance, the political opinions or religious faith of the foreign spouse), the Interior Ministry refused citizenship to the foreign spouse. However, after going through a legal process, the foreign spouse was granted citizenship as required by law.
Summary – legal status in Israel for foreign spouses – legal information
This article presents information collected by the attorneys in our firm, who are experts on the topic of immigration in Israel, from their work in this field over many years. The process of arranging legal status for foreign spouses can be a relatively simple one, and indeed thousands of couples undergo this procedure through the Interior Ministry each year. On the other hand, many couples experience this process as a grueling, exhausting struggle against a stubborn bureaucracy and Interior Ministry clerks who seem intent on causing them difficulty at every stage.
Even if you think you will go through this process easily, and even more so if you are afraid of coming up against difficulties, we invite you to contact us. An expert attorney from our firm will get back to you as soon as possible, to answer any questions you may have.
- Introduction – The phenomenon of foreign workers forming romantic relationships with Israeli partners
- Historical development of the legal status of foreign partners to Israelis
- Regulating the status of foreign spouses married to Israelis
- Bringing in minor children from a previous relationship who are accompanying the foreign spouse (only relevant for foreigners married to Israeli citizens)
- Arranging legal status for foreign spouses of Israeli permanent residents (who are not area residents/Palestinians)
- Regulating the status of foreign partners who are in a common-law marriage with an Israeli citizen or permanent resident, including same-sex couples
- Arranging legal status in Israel for same-sex partners – development of case law
- Regulating the status in Israel for foreign spouses of Israeli citizens or permanent residents who are from high-risk countries
- Regulating status for foreign spouses of Israeli citizens or permanent residents who are Palestinians or from enemy states
- Documents required for opening a joint-life/family unification application
- Sincerity of relationship interview – Interior Ministry officials evaluate the sincerity of the couple’s relationship by interviewing the couple together
- Reasons for rejecting an application or refusing to grant legal status to a foreign spouse
- Illegitimate reasons for the Interior Ministry to refuse legal status to foreign spouses
- Application denied due to large age gap between the spouses
- Procedures for appealing an Interior Ministry decision to refuse legal status for the foreign spouse
- Termination of the gradual process due to death of the Israeli spouse, violence, or termination of the relationship
- How can a violence claim be proven?
- Israeli residence visa is valid for the duration of the gradual process
- The final stage – permanent residence or citizenship?
- Application process upon completion of the Interior Ministry’s gradual process
- Summary – legal status in Israel for foreign spouses – legal information