Birthright, Masa participants to be given six month visas in order to allow extended stays

“We need to remove every obstacle preventing participants in these trips from staying longer."

Diaspora youngsters enjoy a Birthright Israel trip to the Jewish state. (photo credit: Courtesy)
Diaspora youngsters enjoy a Birthright Israel trip to the Jewish state.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The goal of endearing the State of Israel to young Jews from the Diaspora just got a bit easier following approval this week by Interior Minister Arye Deri of new regulations allowing Birthright and Masa participants to work and stay in the country for six months after their official trip ends without having to prove their Jewish status.
When signing up to join Birthright trips and Masa programs, participants, in most cases, are not required to provide documentary evidence of their Jewish identity. Until now, if they wanted to extend their visas for a significantly longer period – as a sizable number of participants do – the Interior Ministry would ask for documentary proof that they were indeed Jewish.
The proof could include a letter from a community rabbi, a parental marriage certificate or similar documents.
Many participants on such programs are not affiliated with their local Jewish community and find it hard to prove their Jewish status and provide such documentation.
This has often caused undue difficulties and exposed them to inconvenient bureaucracy at ministry branches in a process that, it was feared, could make them feel as if the State of Israel was rejecting their Jewish identity – precisely following a tour designed to strengthen their affiliation.
This week, Deri approved the new regulations, which automatically grant participants in “identity programs” like Birthright and Masa a six-month residence and work visa without having to prove their eligibility for the right of return.
In December, MK Nachman Shai (Zionist Union), who has been working on the issue for some time, proposed legislation to overcome the problem.
A vote on his bill was postponed and the government promised to deal with the issue administratively instead.
“The situation until now was ridiculous,” Shai told The Jerusalem Post following the approval of the regulations on Monday.
“We want these youth to stay here, to be impressed by the State of Israel and hopefully decide to live here,” he said.
“The change in the regulations means they will be able to stay and work without needing a visa, and I’m happy that this has finally been achieved.”
In a statement, the ITIM religious services organization, which has helped participants in such programs overcome bureaucratic difficulties and lobbied for a change in the regulations, welcomed the decision.
“We are gratified that the new interior minister took it upon himself to enable Jewish identity program participants to further their experience of Judaism and Zionism in Israel, and we are pleased about the partnership we forged with MK Nachman Shai to make this happen,” ITIM’s director, Rabbi Seth Farber, said in the statement.
“When ITIM was first approached by participants in these programs seeking to stay in Israel, we were shocked that the Ministry of Interior was blocking the way from young Jews to build upon their Jewish identity program experiences,” Farber went on. “The ‘breathing room’ that the new protocols provide will enable those students and young people who wish to stay in Israel and perhaps emigrate, to make their way through the Israeli bureaucracy without feeling threatened.”