Knesset committee urges Israeli border open for families of immigrants

Closure of Israeli borders to foreign nationals has meant many immigrants have not been able to see immediate family for more than eight months.

38 Olim land in Israel as part of a Nefesh B’Nefesh Group Aliyah Flight (photo credit: NETANEL COHEN)
38 Olim land in Israel as part of a Nefesh B’Nefesh Group Aliyah Flight
(photo credit: NETANEL COHEN)
The Knesset Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Committee is set to recommend that the Interior Ministry allow immediate family members of new immigrants who made aliyah within four years to enter the country, despite a general closure of the borders to foreign nationals.
Currently, non-citizens are not permitted to enter without specific dispensation from the interior minister, due to the coronavirus pandemic, meaning many immigrants have not been able to see close family members for at least eight months.
Several Knesset members, including Michal Cotler-Wunsh of Blue and White, have said they have received a deluge of requests by immigrants for assistance in enabling family members to enter the country for various reasons, although in many cases it has been impossible to help.
Although exceptions have been made for first-degree relatives of immigrants getting married, having children or for funerals, such policies have been piecemeal and have not provided a solution for many other immigrants.
Cotler-Wunsh said the fact that many immigrants cannot see family from abroad has created “a huge mental health challenge” that needed to be addressed in a holistic manner.
During the hearing, other MKs, including Meretz’s Tamar Zandberg and Yesh Atid’s Yorai  Lahav Hertzanu, also voiced support for such a measure, who noted that many new immigrants lack a close support network that immediate family often provides, and said that being in Israel without the ability to easily see close relatives “does not feel like home” for many immigrants.
The committee voted at the end of the hearing to recommend that first-degree relatives, including grandparents, of immigrants who have been here for up to four years may enter the country for any reason to see their family members here.
The committee is expected to convene on Wednesday to hear the Interior Ministry’s position on the recommendation.
Cotler-Wunsh acknowledged that there are many other immigrants who have been here for longer than four years who also need family support, but said the Interior Ministry was insistent not to apply the blanket exemption due to public safety concerns.
Committee chairman MK David Bitan (Likud) also noted the distress of immigrants who have not been able to see close family for lengthy periods of time.
“Isolation is tough on everyone, but all the more so for new immigrants,” said Bitan. “The disconnection from family and friends, difficulties with absorption and the language, and health and economic pressures, the worry about getting infected, and concern for family abroad, all these are specific difficulties for the immigrant community.”