COVID-19: Residency visa holders still struggle to enter Israel

People with temporary residency and work visas who live and work in Israel but are not citizens have faced severe difficulties in gaining re-entry permits to the country.

THE EMPTY arrival hall at Ben-Gurion Airport on March 11. (photo credit: FLASH90)
THE EMPTY arrival hall at Ben-Gurion Airport on March 11.
(photo credit: FLASH90)
Despite recent changes in policies regarding the entry of foreign-nationals to Israel following the easing of the COVID-19 crisis, those with work or residency visas are still facing significant difficulties.
Last week, the Population and Immigration Authority of the Interior Ministry permitted the vaccinated, first-degree relatives of Israeli citizens to visit the country for any reason, while the Health and Tourism ministries announced that vaccinated tourists could come to the country as of May 23.
But The Jerusalem Post has learned of numerous cases in which people with temporary residency and work visas who live and work in Israel but are not citizens have faced severe difficulties in gaining reentry permits.
Laura Schwartz, a US citizen who has lived and worked in Israel for the last five years, has an B1 work visa.
In November 2020, she was able to leave Israel for the US to see her parents in Florida, both of whom have experienced health problems in recent months, but once there experienced severe difficulties getting an entry permit back into Israel.
Schwartz says it took her 10 days and 10 applications, large amounts of paperwork, before the Population and Immigration Authority issued her with an entry permit back into Israel, which she adds was likely only due to the fact that she “pulled strings” with a contact of hers with access to officials in the Interior Ministry.
She was supposed to go back to Florida this week but because of her previous experience and recent reports of visa-holders having their entry requests denied pushed off the visit until next month.
“This is home for me, I’ve been living here for five years, I have a valid visa, why should I have to require a permit to return,” Schwartz demands, noting in addition that she is also vaccinated against COVID-19.
“People with visas who live here and have health insurance here, and were vaccinated in Israel should be allowed to fly in and out.
“To put tourist groups before us is disgusting. I moved 6,000 miles away knowing I could go see my parents whenever I wanted and now it feels like prison.”
Sharon, also from the US and who asked that her surname not be published, has an A1 residency visa, and has lived in Israel for five years.
She is currently pregnant and suffered from complications in the first trimester of her pregnancy, requiring several hospitalizations.
Her parents were unable to enter the country at the time, and since she only has a temporary residency visa are still unable to come and visit her.
Since the complications in her pregnancy subsided she has sought to visit her parents in the US but was denied a reentry permit for months until finally receiving it on Monday.
Without such a permit Sharon said she was too worried to leave the country without knowing that she would definitely regain entry.
“For a country that is trying to encourage people like me to do aliyah it’s not a very appealing situation,” said Sharon, who notes that she is vaccinated against COVID-19.
“I haven’t wanted to move back to the US more than I have in the last few months. I was in and out of the hospital for three months and my parents couldn’t come and help. My husband works 14 hours a day and had to take care of me on top of his job.”
The Population and Immigration Authority said in response merely that foreign nationals with work and residency visas are not Israeli citizens and are therefore required to submit entry permits like all other foreigners.
Former MK Rabbi Dov Lipman who has worked for months assisting immigrants, residents, and relatives of immigrants enter Israel said the government was unaware of how committed those with residency and work are to Israel.
"This is the center of their lives, they pay taxes here, and have not become citizens for various technical reasons,” said Lipman.
"Their pain is very real as they can’t easily visit family or travel for work. They call and write to me and others about their suffering. They need to be seen as  citizens when it comes to these types of decisions and I call on the government to change its policies to help these people immediately.”