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Wondering how to obtain an Israeli citizenship or a permanent residency visa? If you have Jewish roots, it’s rather simple. Israel’s Law of Return gives the right to immigrate to Israel to any Jew and his or her family members: spouse, children, grandchildren, their spouses, widows and widowers (the latter must satisfy certain conditions). Let’s start by noting that petitioners often encounter challenges in proving their Jewish identity (click here for details).

However, certain limitations apply even to Jews and their relatives, namely, Jews who had voluntarily converted to another religion. The subject of religious conversion gives rise to many compelling legal collisions. For example, christening of a Jewish infant cannot be deemed deliberate conversion to Christianity (click here for details).

The Law of Return denies the right of return to persons who acted against the Jewish people. This provision is rarely used, albeit worth mentioning. The right of return is equally denied to persons endangering the health of the Israeli citizens (this applies to persons infected with serious communicable diseases) and persons with a criminal record who endanger public safety (click here for details).

In addition to immigration and citizenship rights, the Law in certain circumstances grants visa rights to certain relatives of Israeli citizens, specifically, minor great-grandchildren of a Jew (on condition that their parents at least have been granted the immigration rights) and single elderly parents of an Israeli citizen (click here for details). Also, MOI has a special committee that can deviate from excising policies in special cases of humanitarian nature (click here for details).

Citizenship by Marriage

In this article we’ll discuss the requirements for obtaining a Permanent Residency visa, and subsequently a citizenship, that a spouse of an Israeli citizen must satisfy. Pursuant to the law and the special ordinances, legal spouses and domestic partners of Israeli citizens may apply for a Permanent Residency visa in Israel.

This right, however, is not granted to every Tom, Dick, and Harry who presents a certificate of marriage to an Israeli citizen issued by a country far, far away. If an MOI officer suspects that the marriage might be fictitious, the application will be denied outright.

Legal/Official Marriage

So, spouses of Israeli citizens are naturally eligible to reside in Israel and after a period of five years obtain a citizenship. In order to obtain a Permanent Residency visa by marriage, the couple must file with MOI an application along with all documents supporting their marital status, genuine relationship, center of life, lack of criminal record etc.

Genuine relationship is usually supported by the couple’s pictures, letters (emails, text messages, messages shared through Skype, WhatsApp and other mobile applications), insurance policies, wills, leases, letters and statements by friends and relatives, lessors/homeowners, joint account bank statements, joint vacation itineraries, airline tickets etc.

Later, MOI officers conduct with the couple a so-called interview (or rather a cross-examination) in order to verify their genuine relationship, center of life, lack of criminal record and check for other disqualifying factors. If the spouses applied prior to moving to Israel as a couple, the Israeli citizen will undergo an interview at the local MOI office, and the foreign spouse will undergo an interview at the Consular Department of the Embassy of Israel in the country of origin.

Domestic Partnership

Pursuant to a special MOI ordinance, domestic partners of Israeli citizens are eligible to obtain a Permanent Residency visa in Israel and subsequently a citizenship. The application process takes longer than that of legal spouses, on average about 7 years. Naturally, during this process the domestic partners must pass a few interviews and submit to MOI a wide range of documents supporting their genuine relationship.

Interview

The interview, likely, is the most crucial step in the application process. Officers and courts assign the most weight to the interview outcome. An inadvertent phrase, a careless mistake, a mere forgetfulness, and finally a bad impression on agency officers may turn out very costly. Each applicant is interviewed separately and the obtained information is later closely reviewed and compared. Officers ask many questions regarding their marital life, personal affections and habits, families (including previous), addresses, jobs and so on.

Stress, circumstances, zillion details may easily lead to a mistake. And, although, an applicant may bring an attorney to an interview, it is highly recommended not to. Accompanying persons are strictly forbidden from involving in the interview process. A comment made by a third party may be viewed by an officer as an attempt to influence the process and lead to an unfavorable outcome. An attorney may be very helpful behind the curtains, but his or her presence during the interview will likely make the officer nervous and edgy. You certainly don’t need this!

Appealing MOI decision

If an officer suspects that the marriage might be fictitious, there will be two possible scenarios. Either the application will be denied or MOI will issue a temporary visa after a couple pays a security deposit in order to conduct a further review of the application.

You should know that officer’s denial is not a final verdict. The Israeli Supreme Court requires the State to justify the denial in accordance with the general principles of the Administrative Law thus protecting applicants’ civil freedoms and rights. A bad impression made on MOI officer during the interview may certainly adversely affect the outcome of the application, but if the officer’s suspicions are not substantiated by objective facts, the court should overturn the decision. Even if discrepancies are found between interview protocols and the supportive documents, the court has to examine the entire case and decide on the importance of such discrepancies in the context of the entire case.

Fairness and validity of the denial may be contested in court. While the court reviews the appeal, the foreign spouse stays in Israel. In some cases, if the court of first instance upholds the decision, its decision may be appealed to the Supreme Court. This process may last for years.

However, a successful appeal of the government agency’s decision requires the expertise of a highly specialized attorney. If the appeal petition is properly substantiated, the court may require the state to reconsider its decision, conduct an additional investigation, accept the petitioner’s claim or reach an acceptable settlement.

Clearly, not every situation can be successfully resolved, and not every agency’s decision can be overturned. Yet, foresight, experience, professional intuition, understanding of administrative and judicial proceedings and skillful use of precedents often help us achieve the desired outcome.

By attorneys Arthur Blaer and Itzhak Eitan (Fernaldes)
Mekonnen, Palomo, Fernaldes, Blaer and Co. Law Firm

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