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Terminating the Graduated Procedure for Israeli Legal Status of Foreign Spouses

Joshua Pex
Joshua Pex

Lilian Granovsky

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In which cases will the graduated procedure for arranging legal status for foreign spouses in Israel be terminated, and what are the consequences? If  the relationship between the spouses has ended or the Israeli spouse has died, the graduated procedure will usually be terminated. However, it is sometimes possible to review the continued stay of the foreign spouse in Israel vis-à-vis a special committee for humanitarian affairs, subject to compliance with the requirements of the Ministry of Interior, or by special request. Below, advocate Joshua Pex, a partner of our firm who specializes in immigration to Israel, explains about the termination of the graduated procedure.

In Israel, when a mixed couple (in which one spouse is Israeli and the other foreign) who has married or lives together in a common-law marriage wishes to arrange the Israeli legal status of the foreign spouse, the couple must undergo a prolonged procedure with the Ministry of Interior, called the “graduated procedure”. In this procedure, the legal status of the foreign spouse is arranged gradually. That is, the foreign spouse receives a temporary permit (visa) which allows them to live and work in Israel while their case is examined by the Population Authority officials at the Ministry of Interior. If the procedure is completed in full, the foreign spouse will be granted eligibility for permanent Israeli citizenship or residency.

However, since the procedure is very complex and usually takes several years, various events along the way are likely to prevent the successful completion of it. These events may include the separation of the couple (sometimes due to domestic violence) or the death of the Israeli spouse. When the graduated procedure is stopped, the question arises as to what will be of the foreign spouse and the Israeli legal status that they have already acquired. There is no single answer to this question, and there are several factors that must be considered, including the reason for the ending of the relationship, the period of time spent by the couple in Israel, the stage reached in the graduated procedure, and the couple having children together. Below we explain how such a situation is treated by the Population Authority.

Termination of the graduated procedure

What Israeli Law Applies When Terminating the Graduated Procedure?

The Ministry of Interior has regulations that specify the various possible scenarios of marriage break-up and how to treat each of them. These regulations distinguish between cases of separation or divorce and between cases in which the Israeli spouse has died. It should be noted that these regulations basically relate to married couples who have already reached the advanced stages of the graduated procedure. However, it is sometimes possible to deviate from the normal interpretation of the regulations and apply them to common-law marriages, as well, or to other cases in which the couple does not conform with conditions specified in the regulations.

In general, the graduated procedure includes periodic interviews with the couple, as well as visits to their home, to verify that their relationship is genuine, which makes them eligible to continue the process. If the couple reports to the Population Authority that their relationship has ended, or if their separation is discovered by the Authority in some other way, the regulations stipulate that the Authority officials must examine all the documents that are related to the procedure and then decide how the couple should proceed. If the spouses have separated or have begun divorce proceedings, the couple will be summoned to a hearing at the Population Authority.

After the hearing, a decision will be made regarding the continuation of the procedure and the legal status of the foreign spouse. Note that the legal policy tends toward denying the foreign spouse’s legal status in cases of separation. This policy was used in a Supreme Court ruling from 2002 (HCJ 4156/01) and constitutes a binding law to this day. The courts have reestablished this decision several times over the years. Accordingly, the regulations on termination of the graduated procedure stipulate that, if the Authority officials decide to terminate the procedure, the foreign spouse’s visa will be canceled, as will their Israeli legal status. In such cases, a letter containing a detailed explanation will be sent to both spouses and, as of that date, the foreign spouse will be required to return their Israeli ID card (if they have one) and leave Israel within 14 days. However, it should be noted that there are several exceptions to this rule, in which case the foreign spouse will be allowed to bring their case before a special committee that will consider approving their Israeli legal status for special reasons. Below we explain about these cases.

In Which Cases Will the Option of Allowing the Foreign Spouse to Remain in Israel Be Considered?

The regulations that were set by the Population Authority account for the fact that, even if the graduated procedure has been terminated, there may be room to consider continuing the foreign spouse’s Israeli legal status. Their status will be considered by a committee called “the committee for humanitarian affairs.” As the name implies, the committee deals with cases in which basic human rights require thorough examination of the spouse’s legal status.

One such case may occur if the couple has common children who are under the legal guardianship of the foreign spouse. If this is the case, the children’s well-being may require providing the foreign spouse with Israeli legal status despite the divorce or separation. The conditions for bringing the case before the committee for humanitarian affairs are that the marriage (or other type of relationship) was sincere and was registered lawfully in the population registry; that, as part of the graduated procedure, the foreign spouse received a temporary stay visa in Israel (A5 visa) and that more than half of the period of the graduated procedure has passed; and that an opinion was provided by a welfare officer according to which the departure of the spouse will significantly hinder the children’s well-being.

Another such case is the death of the Israeli spouse. The case will be brought before a humanitarian committee if the marriage (or other type of relationship) was sincere and the foreign spouse received a temporary A5 stay visa. In such cases, the committee will mainly examine the foreign spouse’s connection to Israel and whether this connection is stronger than their connection to their country of origin. Be aware that some of the factors that will be considered are the foreign spouse’s relationship with the deceased Israeli spouse’s family, as well as common assets. Such a case was recently considered by the Ministry of Interior’s appeals court (in a case that was represented by our firm, appeal no. 4529/18). This case concerned the widow of a disabled IDF veteran, herself a trained doctor, whose many years of living in Israel had established her center of life there. Accordingly, the court accepted her appeal and ruled that the committee for humanitarian affairs was mistaken in denying her request for continued Israeli legal status.

When May a Foreign Spouse Request for their Case to Be Brought Before the Committee for Humanitarian Affairs?

Besides the cases mentioned above, which are automatically brought before the committee for humanitarian affairs if the circumstances justify such action, the foreign spouse may request to appear before the committee in other cases, as well. A prominent example of this is if the relationship ended due to domestic violence from the Israeli partner. In an important Supreme Court ruling from 2010 (administrative appeal no. 8611/08) which has since become a guiding principle, the court decided that, in cases where a foreign wife complains of violence from her Israeli husband, her legitimate expectation to arrange her Israeli legal status should be given significant consideration since her separation from her husband was not her fault but, rather, due to the violence that she suffered. This case illustrates that complex cases may require special consideration of the foreign spouse’s situation.

What May Be Done If the Foreign Spouse’s Request Is Denied?

If the foreign spouse’s request to have their case brought before the committee for humanitarian affairs is denied, they may file an internal appeal against the decision, which will be examined by a senior official at the Ministry of Interior. If the case is brought before the committee, and the foreign spouse’s request to continue the arrangement of their Israeli legal status is nevertheless denied, the foreign spouse may appeal the decision with the appeals court under the Entry into Israel Law. If this appeal is denied, as well, the foreign spouse may file an administrative appeal with the court for administrative matters. From our experience, the appeals court or other court may intervene with the decision of the Ministry of Interior or of the committee for humanitarian affairs and issue an order for the decision to be reexamined or changed.

Contact a Lawyer Specializing in Immigration to Israel

In this article we have explained about cases in which the graduated procedure for arranging the Israeli legal status of a foreign spouse is terminated, as well as the consequences of the termination. We have also explained about the various courses of action if the foreign spouse still wishes to continue arranging their Israeli legal status after termination of the graduated procedure. For any further questions or legal assistance or advice, you are welcome to contact a lawyer from our offices who specializes in immigration to Israel. Our law firm, which has branches in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, regularly represents clients with requests to arrange their Israeli legal status (including requests for visas, permanent residency, and citizenship) vis-à-vis the Ministry of Interior and the courts.

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