The Interior Ministry's passport "marathon" backlog scheme has been altered to facilitate urgent visa applications after a High Court of Justice petition and protests, the Jerusalem Institute of Justice (JIJ) said on Thursday.
The May 18 petition by the JIJ and Israeli Association for International Couples (AIC) calling for the ministry to reopen visa services had been rejected by the High Court on Sunday, but it was noted that it had brought about an improved response by the Interior Ministry. The court had also said that there wasn't enough justification for the intervention of the court, which they said was only done rarely for extreme situations.
While Interior Minister Moshe Arbel's May 1 passport marathon plan would dedicate four major ministry offices to applications to tackle the passport renewal backlog, JIJ attorney Tamar Stachel Devor said Thursday that it had closed off other services such as visa renewal across the country. For immigrants, those awaiting citizenship, or family reunification, these services are vital, and Stachel said that many had appointments scheduled months in advance canceled.
Six email boxes were opened by the Interior Ministry to receive and process humanitarian visa requests, and offices beyond the four main offices would be opened to visa and other services.
"Without the petition, this marathon period would have lasted the entire time without services available," said Stachel.
Israel's 'passport marathon'
The passport marathon is set to end in June, lasting a month and a half, but the NGOs had been concerned that it would be extended for several weeks to meet demand. The plan had originally been scheduled to end on Thursday.
Stachel said that the JIJ would be monitoring the situation to ensure that all the people who had their visa appointments canceled would have them rescheduled in a reasonable timeframe.
Arbel said on May 1 that he didn't expect the marathon to resolve the passport backlog, but he wanted to alleviate pressure on the system. On May 17, he said that 41,000 passports had been issued during the scheme, almost half in the four main offices dedicated to the program.