Foreign visa holders face disarray in trying to enter Israel

Those with flights on Sunday were able to board their flights and enter Israel due to the intervention of Amudim and the New York consulate.

 Israelis leaving the country ahead of possible new restrictions due to the Omicron variant, on November 28, 2021.  (photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/MAARIV)
Israelis leaving the country ahead of possible new restrictions due to the Omicron variant, on November 28, 2021.
(photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/MAARIV)

Procedures for the entry into Israel of foreign nationals with different Israeli visas have descended into chaos.

Dozens of people were refused permission to board flights to Tel Aviv on Monday night due to technical glitches, and a lack of coordination between government departments.

Israel’s ban on the entry of foreign nationals into the country due to the Omicron corona variant came into effect on Sunday night, and initially was supposed to exclude anyone without an Israeli passport.

During the course of Sunday, the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee convened to review the government’s policy, and following representations made by former MK Dov Lipman, head of the Yad L’Olim organization, that situation was amended so that people with student visas, work visas and permanent residency visas were included in the list of those allowed to enter the country.

When the Population and Immigration Authority of the Interior Ministry notified airlines to allow those people to board flights, it said that those flying to Israel must depart by 11:59 p.m. “local time,” which was interpreted to mean local time at the point of departure, when the authority had meant Israel time.

  Israel's Green Pass validity was extended until Thursday on Sunday after the Health Ministry 'traffic light' website crashed, October 3, 2021.  (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST) Israel's Green Pass validity was extended until Thursday on Sunday after the Health Ministry 'traffic light' website crashed, October 3, 2021. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

When this error was discovered, it generated panic among several hundred people trying to return to Israel from the US, whose American Airlines flight took off later than 11:59 p.m. Israel time.

Rabbi Zvi Gluck, who heads the Amudim NGO that assists people trying to enter Israel, managed to secure the assistance of the Israeli consulate in New York. Officials there contacted the Population and Immigration Authority, which agreed to postpone the deadline and allow flights to depart by 8 a.m. Israel time.

The New York consulate also gained a concession from the authority that the requirement for Green Pass approval by the Health Ministry be waived on presentation of proof of vaccination documentation for Sunday night only.

Gluck, together with Rabbi Nechemia Malinowitz, head of the Association of Yeshivas and Seminaries, and Paysach Freedman, head of the Chaim Vchesed organization, were all instrumental in securing these changes from the Population and Immigration Authority and the Health Ministry.

Ultimately, those with flights on Sunday were able to board their flights and enter Israel due to the intervention of Amudim and the New York consulate.

Between two to three dozen visa-holders traveling on Tuesday night were not so lucky.

Despite the government decision to allow entry to visa-holders, the Health Ministry did not update its procedures so that their application for the ministry’s obligatory Green Pass were automatically denied.

Those with flights nevertheless went to the airport in order to try to board, but were refused by airline staff since the regulations state that anyone seeking to enter Israel must have the Green Pass in order to board a flight.

Because of this problem, the Population and Immigration Authority determined that these visa-holders would need individual permission from the authority to board the flight.

According to Gluck, some of these people received permission to board but others did not, with no apparent reason offered for the differing policy.

As a result, 20 to 30 visa-holders were barred from boarding their flights on Monday night.

Lipman said the government has repeatedly failed to understand the impact of its changing entry policies. 

“There is a serious lack of recognizing the human element on the government side,” said Lipman. “A small technical glitch means hurting hundreds of people – economically and with their plans. Someone needs to take leadership here and take control. They have to stop making decisions without thinking through all the ramifications, and making sure that every detail is taken care of.”

The Population and Immigration Authority has now updated the public and airline companies on which visa-holders are permitted to board flights to Israel.

The Health Ministry’s online forms now give a positive response to such visa-holders, although the ministry does not issue green passes as they have in the past.

The Health Ministry did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

Gluck noted that during the entire era of the corona pandemic, the biggest problem facing foreign nationals trying to get into Israel has been the confusion whenever entry policies are changed, noting that relevant government agencies are often not coordinated on the new protocols.