Regulations for allowing non-Israelis to visit their family members in Israel were changed Tuesday morning by the Population and Immigration Authority to permit those with a first-degree relative in Israel to visit the country.
The regulations now state that foreign nationals who are vaccinated against COVID-19, or have recovered from the disease, and who have a first-degree family member who is a citizen or permanent resident of Israel, can visit the country with their spouse or partner and their children.
Until now, having a first-degree relative who was a citizen or resident of Israel did not give foreign nationals any extra rights for entering the country.
The changes to the regulations, which go into affect on Wednesday, should now make it easier and quicker to get an entry permit into Israel for foreign nationals with parents, children or siblings living in the country.
An entry permit from the Population and Immigration Authority of the Interior Ministry through the Foreign Affairs Ministry via Israeli consulates abroad will still be required for all foreign nationals in order to board a flight to Israel.
Foreign nationals who have been vaccinated or recovered from COVID-19 who enter the country will need to do a serological test for antibodies upon arrival and wait in quarantine for the results.
Test results have come back within 24 hours but this is not guaranteed.
Foreign nationals entering the country will also need to provide proof of their relationship to their relative in Israel and present relevant documentation verified by apostille or notary.
Applications must be submitted to the Population Authority or directly through the Israeli consulate at the country of origin.
Foreign nationals who are not vaccinated or recovered from COVID but are the parents of an Israeli citizen will also be allowed in for weddings, while entry for such people for the purposes of births is as yet unclear.
In recent weeks and months, hundreds of immigrants have become increasingly frustrated and angry owing to the repeated refusal of the Population and Immigration Authority to issue entry permits to their parents and other first-degree relatives seeking to attend weddings, and be present for births and other crucial family events.
Aliyah and Integration Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata and Diaspora Affairs Minister Omer Yankelevitch both spoke out yesterday against the policy and called for first-degree family members of Israelis to be allowed to visit immediately.
Former MK Dov Lipman, who has worked for months helping immigrants and their family members abroad to enter Israel, thanked Tamano-Shata for “being the driving force behind this decision.”
Lipman said he had been in daily contact with the minister and her staff in recent days and weeks who he said “spearheaded the change” to the regulations.
“I believe this is also an example of how we as olim can stand up and have our voices heard, especially when we work together, we can make real change in Israel,” said Lipman.
“There are daily issues for olim and we will continue to fight together for the benefit of all of them.”
Tamano-Shata welcomed the change in the regulations and insisted that the government "should not remain apathetic to the distress of olim and always ensure that solutions for immigrants are in place [during national crises].”
Later on Tuesday, a protest organized by activists to demand entry-rights for their relatives was staged outside the Knesset despite the new regulations issued by the Population and Immigration Authority earlier on Tuesday.
Some thirty protesters turned up to protest against what was described as the government’s lack of consideration and understanding for the needs of all immigrants, who during the COVID-19 crisis have been separated from their families abroad for over a year.
Matt and Barbara Zucker, olim originally from the US, noted that their 24-year old son who is living and working in New York has been unable to see them for the entire duration of the global health crisis.
“He’s living by himself, working from home, he has no social life because of the pandemic and this has an emotional toll, it’s inhuman not to let him come and be with his family,” said Matt.
“If you can let athletes in then you can also let in the family members of citizens, give them COVID tests and have them quarantine at their relatives’ homes,” he insisted, referencing international sporting tournaments such as a recent Judo competition in which hundreds of foreign athletes entered the country during the most recent lockdown.
Rachel Hirshfeld, an immigrant from the US who was one of the principal organizers of Tuesday’s protest, is scheduled to get married in June.
Until Tuesday, it appeared that her parents and siblings would not be able to enter the country for her wedding, a situation faced by numerous other immigrants.
“I’ve wanted to make aliyah since I was in my mother’s womb. I had pictures of Theodor Herzl, [Ze’ev] Jabotinsky, and Menachem Begin, on my wall in the US, I was a representative for the Jewish Agency at New York University, I worked for years with non-profits to combat BDS and the delegitimization of Israel, I’ve been a hardcore Zionist for a long time,” averred Hirshfeld.
“The thought that my family, my parents couldn’t come to my wedding was too terrible to imagine. Other Israelis were talking about having hugged their parents, kissed their grandparents for the first time after everyone got vaccinated, and was thinking nothing has changed for me,” she said.
Outgoing Blue and White MK Michal Cotler-Wunsh, who has also provided heavy assistance for immigrants and their families in recent months, was also in attendance at the protest and said that Tuesday’s policy change was a “testament to the need for immigrants’ voices to be part of the decision making process.”
Said Cotler-Wunsh: “They are not there. They don’t exist...We must have a place at the policy making table because our voices are necessary, as Israel engages with the challenges it faces for the next 70 years.
Tourism Minister Orit Farkash-Hacohen, who was also influential in having the regulations changed, described the development as "a first step in the resumption of healthy, vaccinated tourism to Israel,” adding that "Recent conversations with the Minister of Health have been productive, and I believe we will soon publish the plan to reopen the skies and allow vaccinated tourists to visit Israel.”