Interior Ministry offices must restore visa services canceled in order to facilitate a focus on passport issuance, the Jerusalem Institute of Justice (JIJ) and the Israeli Association for International Couples (AIC) said in a petition to the High Court of Justice on Thursday.
The NGO petition challenged Interior Minister Moshe Arbel's May 1 plan to address a passport renewal backlog by dedicating four offices in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa and Beersheba only to biometric ID applications.
Visa services were not only canceled in these four major Interior Ministry offices, the NGOs claimed, but on May 14 citizens reportedly discovered that their visa appointments at offices in Rishon Lezion, Netanya, Holon and more were canceled until further notice.
"It is true that the passport problem is a big one and a solution must be found, but it isn't possible to correct one serious backlog by creating another serious backlog when there are Israeli citizens who are waiting for months for approval of family reunification with their spouses, immigrants who are waiting to receive an immigrant visa, or people are waiting to receive citizenship Israeli or other status," said the NGOs in a statement.
The appeal to the High Court argued that a more proportionate response to the passport issue be found, such as reducing the number of days in a week for passport only application. Arbel's plan saw the four offices open under extended hours from May 14 until June 15.
The petition followed a letter last Thursday to the Interior Ministry demanding the plan be altered. If there was no response, JIJ warned that it would take a legal course of action.
The AIC held a protest of about thirty demonstrators in front of Arbel's home in Petah Tikvah on May 9.
Interior minister: 'Passport marathon operation continues in full force'
Arbel visited the Interior Ministry office in Jerusalem on Wednesday to see how the plan was unfolding, and how staff and citizens were dealing with the marathon of passport applications.
"The passport marathon operation continues in full force," said Arbel. "In the first three days of the operation, the Interior Ministry issued more than 41,000 passports, of which about 20,000 were done in the offices where the 'passport marathon' was held. This is a record number of issuances and I am proud of the employees and the public for their cooperation."
Arbel called on Israeli citizens to come to the cities to renew their documents without an appointment. Arbel said when he introduced the plan on May 1 that he didn't expect the plan to instantly resolve the passport crisis, but wanted to alleviate the pressure on the system to meet public demand.