Birthright, Masa participants to get six month visas to stay in Israel after program ends

Bureaucratic problems experienced by “identity program” participants proving Jewish status for extended stay to be significantly eased.

Birthright participants pose on top of Masada. (photo credit: TAGLIT-BIRTHRIGHT)
Birthright participants pose on top of Masada.
(photo credit: TAGLIT-BIRTHRIGHT)
The goal of endearing the State of Israel to young Jews from the Diaspora just got a little bit easier, following the approval this week by Interior Minister Aryeh Deri of new regulations allowing Birthright and Masa participants to work and stay in Israel for six months after their trip ends without having to prove their Jewish status.
When signing up to join Birthright trips and Masa programs, participants, in most cases, are not required to provide documentary evidence of their Jewish identity. Until now, if they wanted to extend their visas for a significantly longer period, as a sizeable number of participants do, the Interior Ministry would ask for documentary proof that they are indeed Jewish – such as a letter from a community rabbi, the marriage certificate of their parents or similar documents.
Many participants on such programs are not affiliated with a Jewish community and find it hard to prove their Jewish status and provide such documentation. This often caused undue difficulties for these visitors and exposed them to inconvenient bureaucracy at ministry branches in a process that was feared could make them feel as if the State of Israel was rejecting their Jewish identity, precisely following a tour that is designed to strengthen their affiliation.
In December, MK Nachman Shai (Zionist Union), who has been working on this issue for some time, proposed legislation to overcome the problem. A vote on his bill was postponed and the government promised to deal with the issue administratively instead.
This week, Deri approved the new regulations which automatically grant participants in “identity programs” like Birthright and Masa a six month residence and work visa without having to prove their eligibility for the right of return. 
The ITIM religious services organization which has helped participants in such programs try to overcome their bureaucratic difficulties and which has lobbied for a change in the regulations welcomed the decisions. “We are gratified that the new Interior Minister took it upon himself to enable Jewish identity program participants to further their experience of Judaism and Zionism in Israel and we are pleased about the partnership we forged with MK Nachman Shai to make this happen,” said ITIM director Rabbi Seth Farber.
“When ITIM was first approached by participants in these programs seeking to stay in Israel, we were shocked that the Ministry of Interior was blocking the way from young Jews to build upon their Jewish identity program experiences. “The “breathing room” that the new protocols provide will enable those students and young people who wish to stay in Israel and perhaps emigrate, to make their way through the Israeli bureaucracy without feeling threatened.”
“The situation until now was ridiculous,” said Shai.
“We want that these youth stay here, to be impressed by the State of Israel and hopefully decide to live here,” said Shai. “The change in the regulations means they will be able to stay and work without needing a visa and I’m happy that this has finally been achieved.