Bar-On issues residency visas to 1,200 foreign workers' children
Given to those who have lived in Israel for at least six years, speak fluent Hebrew and arrived before they were 14 years old; Other applications being revised.
By RUTH EGLASH
Interior Minister Roni Bar-On announced Monday that his office had completed the yearlong task of issuing permanent-residency visas to some 1,200 children of foreign workers, who up until now have been living in Israel illegally and constantly fearing deportation.
"Today, at the end of a long process, we have found a solution for more than 70 percent of families that originally applied to us for legal status," said Bar-On. "It was not an easy decision. We are talking about an issue that is complex and complicated, with many different aspects and varied requests, but I welcome our new citizens into all areas of Israeli life and society."
Since the passing exactly one year ago of a government resolution to provide permanent-resident status to children of foreign workers who have lived in Israel for at least six years, speak fluent Hebrew and arrived before they were 14 years old, the Interior Ministry received 827 requests for citizenship for upwards of 2,000 children. Among those, the ministry has approved 500 of the requests and turned down 166, with the remaining 161 cases still being considered either by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's appointed interministerial humanitarian committee on the matter or by the head of the Population Registry, Ram Blinkov.
A spokeswoman for Bar-On told The Jerusalem Post that the criteria for permanent residency were based on how Israeli the children were considered.
"For children who have already entered the formal education system, Israel is the center of their lives," she said, adding that Bar-On had widened the previous guidelines to include children entering into pre-school at age four and nine months, up to the end of high school. Those who have been accepted for permanent residency will now enjoy the full rights of other Israeli citizens.
Of the 160 requests turned down by the ministry, Bar-On's spokeswoman said they included cases where Israel was not considered the center of the children's lives and ones in which there was evidence of parents who had criminal records. She added that those children and families that were turned down would not immediately be deported but would be requested to make all the necessary preparations to leave the country in the coming months.
The countries of origin of those requesting permanent residency include the Philippines, Columbia, Nigeria, Mauritius, Romania and Turkmenistan. Some of the former countries are in political turmoil or simply too dangerous for the new immigrants to return to.
This is the case for migrant worker Oscar Olivier, who arrived in Israel from the Congo 13 years ago. He told the Post that he was still waiting on an appeal to the ministry to legalize the status of his four-year-old daughter, Esther.
"I am still hopeful that my request will be approved despite my daughter being too young," said Olivier. "But so far I have not received a sign from the ministry as to whether she can stay or must go."
Born in Israel and enrolled in an Education Ministry pre-kindergarten, Esther, who speaks fluent Hebrew, is threatened with deportation if the ministry turns down her request.
"It is extremely hard to explain in words the fear that we are feeling if Esther is not able to gain the permits [for permanent residency]," said Olivier.
Romm Lewkowicz, spokesman for the Hot Line for Migrant Workers, said that the organization, which assists migrant workers in a variety of situations, welcomed the moves made by the minister "to grant these, who are Israelis in every sense, an official status and to share in the joy of the children and their families who will be able to live without fear of expulsion."
He said that the ministry's act came after five years of brutal treatment by the Immigration Police, during which dozens of migrant workers were forcibly expelled and many children - who are now entitled to permanent residency status - were left with no father or mother by their side.
"We all hope that these families will never again witness the distressing scenes that were a daily reality for them," said Lewkowicz.
However, despite the Interior Ministry's granting of 1,200 permanent-residency visas, there were still many children waiting for an answer on their appeal, he continued.
"There are some children and families for whom today is not a day of relief and hope but rather an additional sign of impending danger," said Lewkowicz, adding, "Although one must remember that the government's decision represents an extremely significant precedent, the government has also authorized for the first time the deportation and detention of the children and their families who are not included in the agreement."
Bar-On's spokeswoman said the minister recognized the painful decisions that had to be made in some cases, but added that there needed to be some kind of guidelines to determine who could stay and who should go.
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