How to obtain legal status in Israel for a foreign spouse?

The following has last been updated in the spring of 2020. Due to periodical changes in Interior Ministry policy, and in light of the unique characteristics of each family, the information offered here should not be taken as legal advice, but only as general information.

Israelis (citizens and permanent residents alike) who wish to live in Israel with a foreign spouse cannot do so easily – marriage to an Israeli does not automatically grant citizenship in Israel, nor even temporary status. Of course, if the foreign spouse is Jewish, he or she can obtain their legal status in Israel as an “oleh” in accordance with the law of return, independently and irrespective of the spousal relationship.

Obtaining legal status in Israel due to marriage or common-law marriage relations requires a long and involved process vis-a-vis the Population Authority, a process known as the “graduated procedure”. Entering the graduated procedure requires proof of two elements: Veracity of the spousal relationship and proof of center-of-life in Israel. In addition, the foreign invitee is required to prove that there is no criminal or security impediment to their relocation to Israel. In general a certificate of good character from the country of origin suffices for this purposes.

The right of an Israeli citizen to bestow citizenship on a spouse married to her or him is set forth in section 7 of the Citizenship Law, but the manner of the procedure, as well as the rights of permanent residents of Israel, as well as that of citizens in a common-law relationship, is set forth in a series of Population Authority ordinances that are updated from time to time.

It is worth mentioning that once the application process has started (even only setting an appointment for documents submission) the foreign partner cannot enter Israel as a tourist without obtaining a specific separate visa, even if the partner’s current citizenship normally allows them visa-free entry to Israel.

married couples: The shortest graduated procedure applies to married couples in which the Israeli partner is a citizen, and it lasts for four and half years. Half a year at the status of a tourist eligible to work (a b/1 visa) during the examination of the request, and following its approval – receipt of a temporary resident status (an a/5 visa, also known as an “orange ID card”) which is renewed every year for four years, ending with receipt of permanent resident or naturalization, insofar as the applicant meets the conditions for naturalization.

Note: When the marriage is “El Salvador” style, the graduated process lasts for six years.

The process of obtaining legal status for a foreigner married to a permanent resident of Israel lasts for nearly six years – half a year at the status of a tourist eligible to work (a b/1 visa) during the examination of the request, and following its approval another 27 months (two years and a quarter) at this status followed by receipt of a temporary resident status (an a/5 visa, also known as an “orange ID card”) which is renewed every year for three years ending with receipt of permanent resident status in Israel.

common-law marriages, including same-sex couples: The procedures for those in common-law marriages, including same-sex couples, are longer and do not allow for naturalization at the end of the graduated process. In order to apply the graduated process to spouses that are not officially married you must prove that the relationship reaches the level of a common-law marriage rather than a mere “boyfriend/girlfriend” relationship or a friendship, as well as proof that both partners are single.

After an examination to determine that all three elements exist (a common-law marriage relationship, center of life in Israel and absence of any other impediment) and approval of the request, the foreign partner will receive a tourist visa with a work permission (a b/1 visa) for a year, which will be renewed each year for a total of three years (four years when the Israeli-based partner is a permanent resident). After three years the foreign partner will receive temporary resident status which is renewed annually subject to examination and all told – four years at the end of which he or she will be eligible for permanent resident status (five years when the Israel-based partner is a permanent resident. All in all, the graduated process for foreign common-law spouses of Israeli citizens will last seven years, and that of foreign spouses of permanent residents of Israel – nine years.

While a common-law spouse cannot be naturalized under the graduated process, they are still free to become naturalized further on in accordance with the rules set forth in the Citizenship Law regarding the naturalization of permanent residents in the country.

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