Israel’s coalition government is close to passing a law that would force new immigrants to wait a year before receiving a passport. The law’s stated purpose is to reduce the number of those who qualify for citizenship under the Law of Return, but do not intend to settle in Israel.
Under the bill, new olim would hold a temporary passport for their first year, and then receive a permanent passport. A temporary passport complicates travel, as it does not permit the same freedom of travel as a permanent one.
The bill reverts back to what existed in Israel prior to 2017, when olim received a temporary passport for one year, save for VIPs or other well-connected individuals who were given passports in less time. In 2017 the law was changed, such that olim received permanent passports immediately upon becoming citizens.
Israel’s interior minister has the power to decide how long the new olims’ first passport would be valid. Following the 2017 law amendment, first passports for Law of Return immigrants were issued for five years. In order to receive a new passport, immigrants then needed to supply “proof of residency” by showing they had settled in Israel and were in the country 60% of the time, meaning at least three out of the five years.
The existing law thus requires any new Law of Return immigrant to prove residency after one year
At the end of 2020, then interior minister MK Aryeh Deri, the chairman of the ultra-Orthodox Shas Party, decided to limit first passports for new olim to one year, with eligibility for a new passport contingent on a proof of residency of 75% out of that year spent in the country.
The existing law thus requires any new Law of Return immigrant to prove residency after one year. Knesset members who opposed the new law argued that in essence, the law does not change the existing situation – proof of residency after one year – and thus unnecessarily complicates travel for new olim.In addition, data presented to the committee showed that the 2017 amendment that canceled the one-year temporary visas did not lead to a surge in new immigrants taking advantage of the law in order to gain a passport – and therefore, opponents argued, there was no justification for the law.
The bill was first proposed by Shas MK Yossef Taib and Religious Affairs Minister Michael Malkieli, also from Shas. However, it was eventually merged with a similar bill proposed by the coalition.
On Tuesday, the bill passed its preparation in the Knesset Internal Affairs and Environmental Protection Committee, which is chaired by United Torah Judaism MK Yaakov Asher. It now heads to the Knesset plenum, which will need to approve its second and third reading, after which it will become law. This could happen as soon as next Wednesday, June 14.
Gil Bringer, Deputy CEO of Israel’s Population and Immigration Authority, argued in the committee on Monday that the bill would support an ongoing process to have Israel join the US visa waiver program, as it could contribute to answering the US demand for “closing gaps” in Israel’s immigration policy.However, a representative of Nativ, the governmental agency responsible for approving the Law of Return eligibility, said during the committee discussions that the US had not requested the change.
However, Bringer admitted in the committee’s discussion on Monday that data did not support the claim that more people tried to take advantage of an Israeli passport after the 2017 amendment. He argued instead that the law’s purpose was to increase the strength of an Israeli passport, by reducing the number of passports held by people who do not reside in the country.
Opposition MKs pointed out that, in any case, all temporary passports expire after one year. The harm done within a year by the amount of people who receive a passport with ill intentions does not justify the harm done by complicating travel for all new olim, whose numbers have swelled since Russia invaded Ukraine last February.Some of the law’s opponents accused its proponents that their real motivation behind the law was xenophobia. “There is no real data and everything stems from incorrect assessments and hatred of new immigrants,” said Yisrael Beytenu MK Yulia Malinovsky.
“We will return to a policy of confidants, oligarchs and machers [wheeler-dealers] taking care of things. People who make aliyah pass a close inspection by Nativ. They are eligible for aliyah and deserve a passport,” he added.An unnamed source in the Likud said, “The clerks and officials in the ministry wanted this. No one from the coalition other than the MK who proposed it and the committee chairman spoke in favor of the bill. That says something.”