Two government ministers have decried the government’s severe restrictions on the entry of close relatives of olim [immigrants] into Israel, and have called for changes to the current coronavirus regulations to make such visits possible.
It is currently extremely difficult for foreign nationals, including parents and children of immigrants, to visit Israel, due to the government’s ongoing policy to severely restrict entry to the country due to concerns over COVID-19 variants.
This policy has however led to a situation in which the requests of close relatives of hundreds of immigrants to visit their loved ones in Israel have been rejected by the Population and Immigration Authority of the Interior Ministry, even for weddings, births and other crucial life-cycle events.
In comments to The Jerusalem Post, both Minister for Aliyah and Integration Pnina Tamano-Shata and Diaspora Affairs Minister Omer Yankelevitch called for a change in policy.
Speaking to the Post, Tamano-Shata called on Interior Minister Aryeh Deri and the Population and Immigration Authority under his ministry to be more considerate of the needs of immigrants.
She said she would also be recommending changes to the regulations at the next meeting of the coronavirus cabinet to make it easier for first degree relatives of immigrants to enter the country.
Yankelevitch also described the current situation as “an injustice” that must be immediately rectified.
Their comments come as a group of olim announced plans to stage a protest outside the Knesset on Tuesday afternoon against the government policies.
Tamano-Shata told the Post on Monday that she will shortly send a letter to the permits committee of the Population and Immigration Authority requesting greater consideration toward immigrants, and will submit amendments to the current regulations at the next meeting of the coronavirus cabinet.
“Since we have opened up the skies two weeks ago there is no reason to stop first degree relatives of new immigrants from coming,” said Tamano-Shata.
“The situation must be resolved through the understanding of the committee and the interior minister that they cannot continue to ignore the situation of new immigrants.”
She added that the current situation in which “new immigrants who have come to Israel, are forced to live in ongoing separation from their relatives is absurd,” adding that she was aware that some situations were “severe humanitarian cases.”
Tamano-Shata noted that she sent a letter to the director of the Population and Immigration Authority Prof. Shlomo Mor Yosef in December asking him to allow first-degree relatives of immigrants to visit their relatives, and added that she would “use all legal tools to resolve the issue for the sake of immigrants.”
Yankelevitch reached out to the organizers of the upcoming protest and met with a representative of the group on Monday.
“The current policies regarding entry into Israel, which prevents the relatives of immigrants who have bound themselves to the State of Israel and who have not met with their families for over a year is an injustice that we must fix immediately,” said the minister.
“We cannot relate to the families of immigrants as regular tourists... We must not let corona separate us. The State of Israel needs the Jews of the Diaspora... to enter Israel, in accordance with the conditions that all Israelis must comply with when entering the country in order to protect the significant accomplishments in reducing infection in Israel,” Yankelevitch continued.
The minister said she has already raised the issue in several recent cabinet meetings.
Nicole Grubner, the representative of the protest group, who met with Yankelevitch, said the minister was “compassionate and emphatic” in her stated intentions. Grubner is an expectant mother whose parents have been denied entry permits five times by the Population Authority. “The country has opened up.... It’s simply wrong and inhumane to prevent our families from coming for good reasons and we are demanding government action,” said Grubner. ”We want our voice heard.”
Another case which has come to the attention of the Post is that of Daniella Morgado, 40, who emigrated to Israel from Chile seven years ago, and is pregnant with her first child but is suffering from various complications and is considered a high-risk pregnancy.
Her parents have been applying for entry permits since the beginning of March to come and help their daughter but have been refused by the Population and Immigration Authority 12 times.
Daniella, whose due date for delivery has already passed, has limited movement and shortness of breath due to the complications in her pregnancy, and will be in need of physical assistance after the birth.
Neither Daniella nor her husband have any close family in Israel.
A further problem is that as of Monday, the Chilean government is closing its own borders to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
Daniella’s parents, who are both vaccinated, therefore decided to fly to Israel via Paris, last night, hoping to board the El Al flight from Paris to Tel Aviv on Monday afternoon and obtain an entry permit at Ben-Gurion Airport.
Her parents were denied permission to board the El Al flight at Charles De Gaulle airport because they had not been issued an entry permit.
“It is very stressful, trying to get an answer, trying to understand what I am doing wrong,” said Daniella.
“Both my parents are fully vaccinated, they have health insurance, but there is no one to ask, no one to explain, nothing, just a wall.”
The Population and Immigration Authority said in response that criteria for applying for entry permits are “transparent to everyone” and available online, adding that “the policy of the government is still for limited entry for foreign nationals into Israel,” due to the coronavirus pandemic.
It said that the criteria are “frequently reviewed in order to update them if necessary.”
A spokesman for Interior Minister Aryeh Deri refused to comment on Tamano-Shata’s remarks.