Ask Sarah, the Bituah Leumi expert, Vols I to XIII

Vol XII: Can I go to Bituah Leumi and sign up specifically for unemployment benefits?

Sarah Gargi is director of the Publications Department in Research and Planning Administration at the head office of the National Insurance Institute, Jerusalem. Click here to send us your questions for Sara, please include month and year of birth, year of immigration and marital status. In some cases, the only way to get an accurate answer to a specific question is to contact your local NII branch and supply your ID number. NII phone information center: (08) 936 9696 or (08) 650 9999. For general information see the NII web site most information is on the site in English as well. Vol XII Q: Can I go to Bituah Leumi and sign up specifically for unemployment benefits? A: Yes, you may go to your local branch of the NII and fill out a claims form for unemployment benefit. If you meet all the conditions of eligibility (particularly a qualifying period of 360 days during which insurance contributions were paid), and if you register at the labor exchange and they have no suitable work to offer you you will be entitled to unemployment benefit. For details, call your local branch or the phone center: (08) 650 9999. Q: What are the qualifying criteria for the state (old-age) pension in Israel? A: The criteria for the NII old-age pension are as follows:
  • Having reached the age of eligibility for old-age pension (the "retirement age" or the "age of entitlement to old-age pension"). The retirement age, or the age at which the insured person's eligibility for old-age pension is conditional on a means test, has recently changed for both men and women, and it depends on one's month and year of birth. The "age of entitlement to old-age pension", or age at which the insured person's eligibility for old-age pension is absolute, and unconditional on a means test, is 70 for men, and for women it depends on her month and year of birth.
  • Having accumulated the required qualifying period. For an insured person, this is 60 insurance months within the last 10 years preceding pensionable age; or 144 months, even if not consecutive; or 60 months, as long as the number of insurance months is not less than the number of months during which he was not insured. A housewife is not required to accumulate a qualifying insurance period, but rather a period of residence. A new immigrant who is not insured due to his age at the time of his immigration is entitled to a special old-age benefit (without a qualifying period) at the same rate as the state old-age pension, but his entitlement is dependent on a means test, even at retirement age. Q: I have contributed to BL from 1975-1987. We have then moved to England (1987-1990) and then to Spain (1990-now), Is there a way I can merge my Israeli BL to the Spanish one, i.e, is there some sort of agreement between Israel and EU countries? If the answer is no, are my contibutions to the Israeli BL lost, or at some stage I can recover them? A: Every resident of Israel must pay insurance contributiions to the NII, andthis money is not returned to him (unless it was determined retroactively that he was not a resident during the period of his payments). This principle, of paying to insure against possible contingencies, is the same as in any private insurance company. Persons defined as Israeli residents who reside in a country that has a bilateral social security Convention with Israel or vice versa (generally applied to foreign workers), such as England, do not have to pay contributions to both countries, but only to one. If such persons reside in a country that does not have a bilateral social security Convention with Israel, such as Spain, he must pay contributions to both countries if he wants to maintain his rights in both. In your case, I understand that you are no longer an Israeli resident, so there is no question of "merging" contributions in any case. * * * Vol XI Q: I was paying my Bituah Leumi while I was away, and now they tell me I am not a resident and have returned the money. Now I hope to return soon, and they said I will not have health coverage for 14 months. Is that a punishment? How can I live without health coverage? Why did they return the money for all those years? You wrote that one is obligated to pay into Bituach Leumi. So what gives? How can I return without health coverage? When I return & start paying again, will I be paying an adjusted amount without health coverage? A: A person who resides abroad for over five years is denied his status of Israeli residency and is not required to pay insurance contributions. Therefore the money you paid was returned to you. A non-resident who returns to Israel (after two years or more abroad) is not entitled to health services for two months for every year that he was out of the country. However, you may "redeem" this waiting period if you pay the amount of NIS 8,250 to the NII six months before you return to Israel. Then you will be entitled to health services immediately upon your arrival. Afterwards, you will be paying the regular monthly NII and health insurance contributions (as a resident), the amount will depending on your status (employee, self-employed or not working) and the level of your earnings. Q: If I'm not paying Bituah Leumi, when I visit Israel on vacation, is it possible that I can be detained in any way? A: It is recommended to continue paying NII contributions when abroad in order to retain rights for health insurance. The NII does not detain people here on vacation for not paying. Q: My husband and I travel almost six months a year. He has an Israeli passport and ID, I don't, but am supposedly covered under his Bituah Leumi as his wife and de-facto resident ? We can't find out what medical branch we are supposed to go to here if we get sick or for tests, and no one seems to know. Also, when we travel, we pay our Bituah Leumi but were told we are not covered for any health services needed when outside Israel. Can you confirm this ? Is there a supplemental health insurance policy you can recommend ? We travel in USA, Europe and even Arab countries sometimes. A: Only an Israeli resident is insured in health insurance. A non-resident spouse of an Israeli resident is not insured. In order to receive health services, one must register at one of the sick funds operating in Israel. Look under Health in the Cafe Oleh resouce listings. You should check with your local NII branch to see what your status is in Bituah Leumi. * * * Vol X Q: I made aliya in December 2002. The next winter the government was talking about eliminating the oleh car benefit, so I bought a small car (Citroen C3). Then my support from the Misrad Klita ran out. I went to Bituah Leumi to sign up so I could get unemployment. Imagine my surprise when I was told I couldn't get it because I owned a car! I've used my car to get consulting work in Herzliya, Rehovot and even Jerusalem (before the trains were restarted). I couldn't get to a number of the jobs in any reasonable time without a car, but I get no unemployment between jobs. Please explain why I must pay Bituah Leumi when I do work while it won't pay me any when I don't. A: From what I understand, you applied for an income support benefit on the grounds of unemployment, and not for an unemployment benefit. Possession of a car does not rule out entitlement to unemployment benefit (paid for a temporary period to persons out of work), but it does rule out entitlement to income support benefit (paid to persons uncapable of providing for themselves, or whose income is lower than the minimum determined necessary for subsistence). Q: As a newly single parent I get child support for my children from my ex-husband, but I've always freelanced and don't make much money at all. Do I qualify for anything? Discounted health insurance? Income help? Unemployment? What is the "study grant"? Because I don't have any skills and would love to be trained in something, but can't afford to go to school or take classes. A: The study grant is paid for school-age children in families defined by law as single-parent families. You can find out if you are entitled to this or other benefits from the NII by calling the NII phone center (giving your ID number) at: (08) 936 9696 or (08) 650 9999. Note from Cafe Oleh: If you go to the unemployment office you can enquire about training courses. Also, depending how long you have been here, the Misrad Haklita runs courses. See Cafe Oleh's Red Tape and Business and Employment listings. Q: I would like to take this opportunity to ask about my elderly mother who has been living in Israel for the past 45 years and complains that her pension has been cut to the limit. What would be the reason and how can she be helped? A: Unfortunately, with the various budgetary cuts in the framework of the Economy Arrangements Laws in Israel over the past several years, the value of the NII old-age pension has been greatly eroded. If this pension is your mother's only source of income, she should be entitled to an income supplement from the NII. This income supplement, in turn, would entitle her to various other disounts and assistance from other government bodies. She can check out her eligibility by calling one of the NII phone information centers: (08) 936 9696 or (08) 650 9999. * * * Vol IX Q: I recently returned to Israel having made aliya a few years back, before Western immigrants were eligible for sal klita. As far as I am aware, my wife and son (both olim hadashim) are eligible for sal klita. My question is whether I'm eligible for either d'mei avtala or income insurance during my absence from Israel I registered with Bituah Leumi as being no longer resident in Israel. I still need to update my status with them as a resident in Israel again. I read on the Misrad Haklita website that toshavim hozrim are eligible for avtahat hachnasa for the first three months back in Israel. A: When you arrive in Israel, you have to fill out a residency questionnaire. If you are found to fullfill the criteria of residency, and meet the conditions of income support, you may be entitled to this benefit. However, one of the conditions of entitlement to income support is a family income test, so that if your wife receives a sal klita this is considered income, and may rule out entitlement. Q: I am self employed (freelancer) and for the past six and a half years have also been employed part-time, with a monthly wage slip. About eight months ago, as the project that employed me began wind down, my hours were cut, and last month the project terminated and I received notice of dismissal (mihtav piturim). Am I entitled to unemployment benefit for my salaried hours and wage, even though I am also self-employed? A: Yes, you are entitled to unemployment benefit for your salaried work, and should submit a claim to your NII local office. Q: God willing we are having our first child in February. What are the rules for maternity leave and benefits? I work full-time, and my husband works in two places, the equivalent of 2/3 time. A: Every woman who gives birth is entitled to a maternity grant, paid directly to her bank account. In addition, if you work and have accumulated the required qualifying period (10 out of the 14 months or 15 out of the 22 months preceding the day you stop work due to the birth), you are entitled to a full maternity allowance, to the amount of your full income in the three months preceding the day you stop work, paid to cover a period of 12 weeks. (If you accumulate a shorter qualifying period, you may be entitled to a partial maternity allowance). * * * Vol VIII Q: I recently married an Israeli citizen and in April received temporary residency (I am not Jewish). I was told at my Bituah Leumi branch that I cannot receive kupat holim (health insurance) for six months after receiving temporary residency. I have a friend in exactly the same situation (she is also not Jewish) who had no problems receiving kupat holim a month after she received temporary residency. How is this possible? The situation is complicated by the fact that I am eight months pregnant and will not be eligible for kupat holim until a month after the baby is born and in the meantime everything must be paid for privately. I don't mind the rules, but why the double standard for two cases exactly the same? A: Yes, there is a waiting period of six months for a temporary resident to be recognized as a resident of Israel, after which he is entitled to health services. If he (or she) is recognized as a resident, he may be recognized retroactively, in which case he may receive a reimbursement of expenses for health services acquired. The rules have changed recently, which may explain why there is a difference between the two cases. Note from Cafe Oleh: Perhaps you should go back to your Bituah Leumi branch and have them confirm that you will be reimbursed once your residency is recognized. If this is indeed the case, there is no need for you to be worried about it all through your pregnancy. Q: I am working as a freelance writer and earning NIS 550 per month. At the moment this is my only income and I am not considered an employee. Do I have to pay any Bituach Leumi? Also, I believe I was charged a too high rate in the past, how can I rectify this? A: If you are a housewife (married to an insured person), you do not have to pay NII contributions. All other people, including those who do not work at all, pay NII (including health) contributions. Those who do not work and those who earn very little pay the minimum amount. If you think you may have paid too much, contact your local NII branch. Q: I am an Israeli citizen and in 2003 I collected Bituah Leumi. During that time I was sick twice and missed checking in, but took in medical certificates (don't have copies). These were not consecutive weeks. Both times I was not paid for those weeks. I tried to speak to the woman in charge, but my Hebrew is almost non-existent, and she was not very helpful. I have never received this money and would like to know how to claim it. A: Although you don't state it, I assume that you're referring to unemployment benefits. It could be that you were not paid for the weeks that you were sick, but that the period for which you were paid was extended accordingly, up to the maximum period for payment of unemployment benefits. You can check that on the policy you received, or try the NII phone information center at (08) 936 9696 or (08) 650 9999. Q: In spite of the Misgav Ladach hospital being closed for over four and a half years, and it being more than two years since the Histadrut lawyers representing the workers submitted a request for Bituah Leumi to pay the workers' pitzuim as guaranteed them by law, only a small "advance" has been paid. Many of the former workers are in financial distress. When will Bituah Leumi pay us what we are entitled to get? A: The person I spoke to at the Bankruptcy Department of the NII informs me that all the (81) claims of Misgav Ladach workers have been paid. You can call her: Edna Marciano, on (02) 646 3002. * * * Vol VII Q: I understand that all Israeli citizens living abroad are still obligated to pay Bituah Leumi. I left Israel two years ago and continued paying for about a year and then let my payments lapse due to financial constraints. What are the consequences of not paying? Will I have any problems when trying to re-enter Israel at any time? Can I "catch up" on payments at some stage? A: Yes, Israeli residents abroad are obliged to pay NII contributions. If you lapsed in your payments, you can always pay back your debt. It is important to do so as soon as possible (so as not to have to pay a large amount of linkage and fines) and then to continue to pay regularly. A person who returns to Israel after having not paid the NII for over a year will have a waiting period (of two months for every year of absence from Israel) before he may receive health services. Note from Cafe Oleh: See third Q&A in Vol VI for more information on this subject. If you stay abroad for over five years, it is possible that your status as an Israeli resident will be denied, and the money that you paid the NII will be returned. Therefore, if you are not certain whether or not you will be returning to Israel, it is recommended that you make sure to pay the NII regularly (through a friend or relative in Israel), so that if you do return, your rights are ensured, and if you do not return, your money may be retrieved. Q: I read your answers as the following:
  • If you are not a resident, you are not insured.
  • Every Israeli resident who goes abroad is obliged to continue paying Bituah Leumi. Presumably, one can be a resident, but located abroad. Can you explain the precise definition of residency? A: There is no precise definition of residency, but rather a wide range of criteria that must be met, and that are examined in each case that comes up. A person who intends to return to Israel after years abroad is required to fill out a residency form, after which his status will be examined and determined by the NII. Q: If I and my wife live in the USA for family reasons, will we continue to receive social security benefits ? If my wife gets widowed, will she get benefits in the USA? I am in my 80th year. A: Yes, you will continue receiving the old-age pension from the NII. (You will be required to provide the NII with a life certificate every year). If your wife gets widowed abroad, she will not be entitled to survivors' benefits from the NII (being no longer an Israeli resident.) To know whether she will be entitled to Social Security from the States, you must check with the SSA. Q: I worked in Israel for more than a decade in the 80s and 90s as a non-citizen, and paid into the Betuach Leumi fund. I am now back in the US. Am I eligible for any refund from Bituah Leumi? A: No, you are not eligible for a refund. Bituah Leumi works on the insurance principle similarly to private insurance, where you would not be entitled to any refund for the money you paid (if there was no car accident, for example). Your insurance rights continue to accumulate as long as you pay, and you will be eligible for old-age pension when you reach the age of eligibility. * * * Vol VI Q: Would you kindly tell me at what age I may receive social benefits from Bituah Leumi after working 18 years. I am 59 years old. A: The age of entitlement to old-age pension varies with one's year and month of birth. If you were born between January and August 1946, your conditional age of entitlement is 61 years and 4 months. If you were born between September and December 1946, your conditional age of entitlement is 61 years and 8 months.The conditional age of entitlement to old-age pension means that any income from work may affect your entitlement (income from any pension does not affect your entitlement). Your absolute age of entitlement to pension, regardless of income, is 67 or 68, depending on your month of birth. Q: I am a toshav hozer, returned to Israel after 40 years. I am now 67 years old, I have been paying Bituah Leumi ever since my return, that is, for the last 4 years. When will I start getting kitzbat zikna? What are the conditions? And will there be an income test? A: There are two questions that must be answered to determine when you will be entitled to old-age pension: Whether you have accumulated the required qualifying period, and your specific age of entitlement. According to our calculation, you acquired nine years of the qualifying period before you left Israel (from age 18 to age 27) and another four years since you returned, so it seems that you now have over the necessary 12 years' insurance. If you were born in 1938, you may have been eligible for an old-age pension, conditional on income, from age 65. (However at that age you may not have had the required qualifying period). The absolute age of entitlement to pension, regardless of income, is 70. For specific information regarding your situation, you must turn to the local NII branch with your ID number, or call the phone information center: (08) 936 9696. Q: I made aliya with my family in 1998. After several months not finding a job, I left my wife and eight kids in Israel. Sadly it has been seven years now. I paid my Bituah Leumi. Now, they wrote me that they have returned all the money I paid in to them, and say my wife now owes them seven years of bituah. The issue is that I hope to return and they said I will not have any health coverage for 14 months. (two months per year out of the country.) Are they looking to punish returnees? Besides, I paid into the system. The only answer I got was: "that is the law." Can you offer any suggestions what to do? Or find out why the harsh law?Who can be without health coverage today? A: A person who resides abroad for over five years is denied his status of Israeli residency, and is not required to pay NII contributions. Therefore the money you paid was returned. However, a non-working woman (residing in Israel) who is married to a non-resident is obliged to pay NII contributions. A non-resident who returns to Israel after over two years abroad is not entitled to health services for a period of two months for every year he was out of the country, as you state correctly. However, you may "redeem" this waiting period if you pay the amount of NIS 8,250 to the NII 6 months before you return to Israel. In that case, you will be entitled to health services immediately upon your arrival in Israel. You may pay this amount through our internet site (where you will also find detailed explanations for returning residents). Note from Cafe Oleh: While it seems sensible that you pay the NIS 8,250 through the website, I suggest your wife go down to her local NII branch and explain things. That way she can organize to pay what she owes, either by you sending her a lump sum, ot through a payment scheme that she can work out with the NII. Vol V Q: I live in Mexico. Is there a bank here where I can make payments to Bituah Leumi? A: No, payments can be made only from Israel. Ask a relative or friend in Israel to make the payments for you. Q: I am an immigrant. I have worked in the country for 10 years and paid Bituach Leumi. I am 62 when can they force me to go on pension? I believe the pension is NIS 1,400 how do people exist on this? I lost my pension rights from the country where I was born. A: When you reach the age of 67, you will be entitled to an old-age pension from the NII, no matter what your income is (since the age of 60, you have been eligible for an old-age pension, conditional on amount of income), and you may work until you reach that age. Of course, your continued employment is dependent on your particular employer. The old-age pension from the NII is a minimum subsistence pension (that has been greatly eroded over the years due to the various Economy Emergency Laws enacted by the government in recent years). The amount of the old-age pension (which depends on family structure) is meant to be the first tier of a person's pension, the second tier consisting of pension from work. If the pensioner subsists only on his old-age pension, he is entitled to an income supplement from the NII. One may also be entitled to other increments, such as a seniority increment, if a person has accumulated this over the minimum 10 years' insurance. Q: As a newly single parent I get child support for my children, but I've always freelanced and don't make much money at all. Do I qualify for anything? Discounted health insurance? Income help? Unemployment? A: You don't mention if you get your child support from your ex-husband, or from the NII. If it is from the NII, you may be eligible for other benefits, such as income supplement, under the Income Support scheme, as well as a study grant under the Children scheme. There is no discount in health insurance. Self-employed are not entitled to unemployment. * * * Vol IV Q: Can a couple receiving old age pension live in another country and continue getting said monthly benefits? A: If you move to a country that has a blilateral convention with Israel , than there is no problem to continue to get the monthly old-age pension. If you move to a country that does not have a convention with Israel, you can continue getting the pension for six months after you leave Israel, if you fulfill one of the following basic conditions:
  • You were entitled to the pension before you left Israel.
  • You continue being a "resident" of Israel, by defintion, even though you live abroad. In order to continue to receive the old-age pension after a six-month period abroad, you have to continue fulfill one of the above basic conditions, plus both the following conditions:
  • You completed the qualifying period (of payment of insurance contributions) for coverage in old-age insurance as an employed worker.
  • You had 30 years of residence in Israel after May 14, 1948. The above is a very general answer. Each person should clarify his specific situation at his local NII branch. * * * Vol III Q: I cannot come to Israel without my 86-year-old mother. I would like to try to bring her with me. I want to know if she will be eligible for health insurance and either a "home health aide" daily or placement in a nursing home. She is in one now, and receives US social security benefits monthly. A: Your mother will be insured both in health insurance (she will have to pay the minimum monthly health contributions) and in long-term care insurance (a home health aide) as are all new immigrants. Q: I left Israel five years ago and kept paying Bituach Leumi for an additional two years. Now I want to start paying again and have my health insurance rights back. I have paid thousands and thousands of shekels to Bituach Leumi in the past. What is the procedure to follow to start paying again and get my rights back? I still live abroad. A: Your status at the NII has to be examined that is, whether you still meet the definition of Israeli resident, which is the basic condition for eligibility to almost all NII benefits. If you are not a resident, you are not insured. Apply to the local NII branch nearest to your previous place of residence in Israel, with your ID number, and verify your status. Q: I'm an Israeli living abroad for the past year. Am I supposed to continue paying Bituach Leumi? How? I no longer even have an Israeli bank account. Also, I was recently in miluim, but back in the US, and never gave in my 3010 form. What can I do? A: Every Israeli resident who goes abroad is obliged to continue paying Bituah Leumi contributions. He is meant to notify the NII local branch that he is going abroad. Notify the branch now, and leave an address of parents or another relative to whose home the NII can send the paybook, and have this relative pay for you. Download the claims form for reserve service benefit. You can send the form to your "local" NII branch, and they will pay you the benefit to your bank account abroad. * * * Vol II Q: As a freelancer earning less than NIS 10,000, do I owe money to Bituah Leumi (the NII)? At what income level do I owe money? How do I pay it? A: The first question is whether or not you are defined as an employee. If you have wage slips, you are considered to be an employee, and do not have to pay the NII for the period during which you are an employee - the employer pays for you. If you are not an employee, the second question is whether or not you are defined as a self-employed worker. The definition of a self-employed worker is based on a minimum weekly period of work (20 hours), or a minimum monthly wage (50% of the average wage the monthly average wage is NIS 6,964), or a combination of the two (at least 12 hours of work a week and earning at least 15% of the average wage). If you fit into the definition of self-employed, then you have to fill out a form to declare yourself as such (The form is available at NII local branches and on our site ), and you will receive paybooks to pay the NII every three months. You will have to pay 9.82% of your earnings to the NII part of this are NII contributions and part is health insurance. If you don't fit into the definition of a self-employed worker either, then you are considered as a non-worker, and you pay the minimum payment to the NII NIS 132 a month, including health insurance. In this case too you must register yourself at the NII local branch in order to get a paybook, and pay every three months. As a rule, everybody has to pay NII contributions, whether working or not. A person who does not pay, and nobody pays for him, should go to the nearest local NII branch and settle his affairs; otherwise, he may have to pay back-payments with fines and linkage. * * * Cafe Oleh experts have been chosen for their knowledge and reputation. Cafe Oleh does not take responsibility for any advice they offer.
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