A government decision to only address passport issuance and cancel other services at four Interior Ministry offices is a rights violation for those in urgent need of visas, the nonprofits Jerusalem Institute of Justice (JIJ) and Israeli Association for International Couples (AIC) said in a letter to Interior Minister Moshe Arbel on Wednesday.
In response to a passport backlog caused by the coronavirus pandemic and new biometric identification regulations, last Monday Arbel had decided that from Sunday until June 15 major ministry bureaus in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa and Beersheba would be dedicated only to biometric document applications.
JIJ and AIC argued that the decision was unreasonable and disproportionate, and solving the passport problem at the expense of the visas was not a proper balancing of interests.
“The 4 central bureaus, which regularly handle tens of thousands of complicated status adjustment cases, will lead to complete chaos in the field of visas, which is collapsing under the load of applications anyway,” wrote JIJ and AIC. “This will cause unprecedented damage to thousands of people and family units in Israel, Israelis or spouses of Israelis, who are in the process of family reunification, immigration or receiving status.”
While Arbel’s plan would see the automatic extension of 11,000 foreign visas to negate problems arising from cancellation of non-passport services, the NGOs said that this did not solve the problem of those who still had not been granted a status or were trying to upgrade their visa.
While the plan was to last a month, the NGOs were also concerned that the period could be extended, creating further uncertainty for citizens.
NGOs call for passport plan to be canceled or shortened
The NGOs called on Arbel and the ministry to retract the cancellation of visa services, or reduce the plan to two days a week. They also requested that the offices allow the submission of urgent visa applications.
If the ministry didn’t respond by Sunday, the NGOs warned that they would take legal action. JIJ had been weighing a petition to the High Court of Justice on Monday.
Arbel’s plan to address the passport crisis would see the four offices open under extended work hours, from 7:30 a.m. until 10 p.m., five days a week. A new permanent passport office would also be opened Monday in Bnei Brak.
The ministry didn't expect the plan to instantly resolve the passport crisis, but wanted to alleviate the pressure on the system to meet public demand.