New olim will now need to wait a year before receiving an Israeli passport after the Knesset plenum approved an amendment to the Passport Law. This amendment is mainly a counteraction to a large number of Russian and Ukrainian citizens to Israel according to the Law of Return but didn’t actually live in the country.
Under the bill, new olim would hold a temporary passport (or travel document) 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 receive permanent passports immediately upon becoming citizens.
The amendment was a government proposal that was merged with a private legislation proposal from MK Yossi Taib. 31 Knesset members supported the proposal and 25 opposed it.
Many Russian olim have returned to Russia after getting their passports
In April 2022, The Jerusalem Post revealed that some 1,800 of the Russian Jews who immigrated to Israel over the first two months of the Russian-Ukrainian War have returned to Russia with their new Israeli passports.
A senior official in the Aliyah and Integration ministry said then that they were “shocked by the abandonment data,” of olim and cited it as the antithesis of Israel’s generosity toward the Russian olim.
Since the 2017 amendment, a number of investigative reports were published in Israeli media, claiming that there is an entire industry of Russian and Ukrainian citizens who seek to obtain an Israeli passport as an ‘insurance policy,’ in case the security situation changes.
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.
In the explanatory notes to the proposal, it is written that until the amendment of the 2017 amendment, the Interior Minister had broad discretion to refuse to issue a passport or travel certificate, with reference to the period when new immigrants are in Israel and while examining whether they have settled there.
“This policy was implemented while unlike most Western countries, where the acceptance of citizenship is done gradually and after a number of years of residence in that country, in Israel new immigrants receive citizenship immediately upon entering it,” the explanatory text of the amendment said, adding that “it was necessary to prevent the use of Israeli passports by those who exercised their right to obtain Israeli citizenship by virtue of the Law of Return, but in fact, their attachment to Israel was only formal and the only expression of it was the use of an Israeli passport.”
In addition, it was mentioned that the consequences of the 2017 amendment “it appears that there is a wide-ranging phenomenon of taking advantage of the Law of Return in order to receive Israeli citizenship immediately, only for the purpose of obtaining an Israeli passport, without having any other real ties to the country, and this, among other things, for the purpose of entering countries that allow Israelis to enter their territory without an additional visa - which may result in damage of the strength of the Israeli passport.”
In addition, the amendment mentioned unnamed “security officials,” who have expressed concern that the previous 2017 amendment “could lead to the abuse of the Law of Return, for the purpose of obtaining an Israeli passport by parties seeking to carry out actions that harm the security of the state.”
When introduced, a number of opposition MKs criticized the amendment.
“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.”