COVID-19 travel ban to red countries to be lifted for some dual citizens

Grandparents will also be able to get approval for travel to grandchildren’s lifecycle events, for the first time since start of the pandemic.

 AN EMPTY arrival hall at Ben-Gurion Airport does not bode well for ‘olim.’ (photo credit: YOSSI ALONI/FLASH90)
AN EMPTY arrival hall at Ben-Gurion Airport does not bode well for ‘olim.’
(photo credit: YOSSI ALONI/FLASH90)

Dual citizens who work abroad or have first- or second-degree relatives outside the country should be able to get an exception to travel, even if the country of destination is red and on Israel’s no-fly list, after a final vote Wednesday by the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee.

The committee, run by MK Gilad Kariv, approved the government’s latest list of 15 red countries, but said that it was doing so only on the condition that certain changes were made to how travel exceptions were handled within 24 hours.

After receiving written commitments from the Health Ministry and Population and Immigration Authority, the committee voted in the affirmative.

The decision enables thousands of American and British Israelis, for example, who work abroad but immigrated to the Jewish state, to continue supporting their families. Since Israel started labeling countries red again, Israelis were told that they could not travel to them without applying through a special exceptions committee. But there was no exemption for work and hence no way for these individuals to travel.

Moreover, in most cases, immigrants were unable to visit their first-degree relatives unless there was a humanitarian emergency. Now, life-cycle events – births, weddings, bar and bat mitzvahs, for example – would be considered acceptable reasons to leave Israel for a red destination. And it will apply to second-degree relatives, too.

With more countries being declared ‘red,’ travelers converge on Ben-Gurion Airport on Sunday. (credit: FLASH90)With more countries being declared ‘red,’ travelers converge on Ben-Gurion Airport on Sunday. (credit: FLASH90)

The following changes are supposed to take place on the Population and Immigration Authority’s exception form: adding a box that says “primary livelihood in red country” and changing a box that says “parents to child’s wedding” to be broader and include other life-cycle events. By press time, the first change had already been made.

“Our expectation is that Israeli citizens will be able to attend an event for members of their family,” said Kariv. “In the next set of regulations, the words ‘first-degree’ are dropped.

“For now on, once a week, there will be a follow-up discussion on the issue of entry and exit, and we expect next week to receive a message that we have finished with the red list of countries or to receive an even shorter list,” he said.

Earlier this week, the ministry’s committee for classifying states recommended reducing the list of countries to which Israelis are banned from traveling, but added Mexico while leaving the United States and Canada on the list – a recommendation that was approved by the government late Tuesday night.

THE FULL list of red states now includes Canada, Ethiopia, France, Hungary, Mexico, Nigeria, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland, Tanzania, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom and the United States.

The rest of the 69 countries that were on the list were removed, including the majority of African nations and Italy, Ireland and Germany. Those countries join a list of orange countries to which there is a severe traveling warning but no ban.

The decision goes into effect on December 30 at midnight – the night between Wednesday and Thursday. It is in effect until January 5.

Former MK Dov Lipman – who runs the Yad L’Olim nonprofit organization that has been fighting for the relatives of immigrants to be able to enter Israel and to allow immigrants to exit the country and see their families since the government shut down the airport for the better part of two years – has spearheaded efforts to achieve these exemptions.

“This has been my battle for weeks,” Lipman said from the Knesset, “but thanks to the insistence of MK Kariv, we got them to widen the rules for leaving Israel.”

As mentioned, travelers will still have to apply to leave Israel through the exceptions committee. Quarantine on return would also still be required.

In addition, the committee demanded that the Population and Immigration Authority open a special emergency “mailbox” to respond in urgent cases.

Finally, the ministry updated the outline for entering Israel on Wednesday – for tourists and Israelis. Anyone entering Israel from a red country will be required to enter up to 14 days of isolation – isolation that can be shortened to seven days with two negative PCR tests on days one and seven.

If travelers sign a contract that they will be isolated, they will be able to quarantine at home or in the location of their choice. If not, they will be required to stay at a state-run coronavirus hotel.

From orange countries, vaccinated or recovering individuals, as defined by the ministry, will be required to isolate for three days, subject to negative coronavirus tests on days one and three. Unvaccinated individuals will still require a 14-day quarantine that can be shortened to seven days with the tests.