There are many cases nowadays in which Israeli citizens are sharing their life with foreign spouses from all over the world, due to many travels abroad and the relatively large number of foreign visitors. Such couples are given the possibility of regulating the foreign spouse’s status in Israel and seeing Israel as their permanent home. This applies to both married couples and common-in-laws, although the procedure is slightly different.
Status regulation is a gradual procedure which involves presenting many documents and meeting at the Ministry of the Interior (“MOI”), in order to prove the truthfulness and sincerity of the relationship. It seems that the regulations for obtaining the status change are broadminded and liberal, as the same procedure can be applied in cases of gay partners as well, but a closer look at the procedure and the differences between married couples and common-law couples’ procedures exposes discrimination when dealing with gay partners. In order to prove our point, we would like to briefly compare some points of the procedures for married couples as opposed to those relating to common-in-laws.
Status regulation for married couples
Married couples wising to regulate the status of the foreign spouse will undergo a five-year procedure after which Israeli citizenship shall be granted. They will begin at a MOI branch near their residence area and will be given a long list of documents that they must present, such as personal documentation, proof of the sincere relationship, and documents relating to the Israeli partner. At the time of the application, if all documents are presented and the MOI official approves it, a work visa will be issued. The work visa shall be valid until date of the hearing (interview) scheduled for the couple (usually within several months). The hearing is intended to take a closer look at the nature of the relationship between the couple and reveal fictive ties. Following the hearing, the foreign spouse shall receive an A/5 permanent residency, which allows the spouse to live and work in Israel, valid for one year, which will be renewed once a year up to a total of four accumulative years. At the end of the four-year period, the foreign spouse can apply for citizenship or for permanent residency. Each case is reviewed separately, and if there is no refusal of citizenship, then citizenship or permanent residency shall be awarded (according to applicant’s request).
Regulating common-in-laws’ (of Israeli citizens) status, including gay partners
Similar to status regulation for married couples, common-in-laws are also given the opportunity to status change. Again, the couple must apply at the local MOI branch and present similar documents (the same as those presented by married couple, with the exception of a marriage certificate). The procedure in such cases takes seven years. When applying, if the foreign partner has a valid visa, it will be extended till date of the hearing (interview). After the hearing, should the couple successfully pass it, a B/1 work visa for one year shall be issued. This visa shall be renewed once a year until an accumulative period of three years. At the end of these three years, an application for A/5 permanent residency shall be submitted. This kind of visa can be extended until a total of four years. At the end of the four-year period, a total of seven years altogether, the foreign partner shall be allowed to apply for permanent residency.
A quick glance at the differences between the two types of procedures doesn’t reveal major differences, as in both cases residency is regulated from the beginning of the procedure, and permanent residency is awarded to the foreign partner at the end of the procedure. Differences relate, however, to the question of regulating the relationship (a sign of real intention and a serious relationship – marriage) as opposed to leading common-in-law ties. And yet, in cases where marriage cannot take place, when two partners of the same gender are involved, things seem to receive a completely different meaning.
The major differences between the procedures are:
1. A married foreign spouse shall be issued a work visa while applying at the MOI branch. An unmarried foreign partner shall be issued a work visa only after the hearing, that is, approximately after six months. His/her visa shall of course be extended, but because it’s a tourist visa he/she cannot look for work unless he/she works illegally.
2. The duration of the gradual procedure is about 4.5 years for married couples, and 7 years for common-in-laws.
3. A foreign citizen, married to an Israeli citizen, shall eventually receive Israeli citizenship; while an unmarried foreign partner will have to settle for permanent residency.
The major question is why are two partners of the same gender being forced to receive the same conditions as the common-law couples, including longer stay under tourist visa conditions, self-financing their medical care insurance during the 3.5 years of B/1 working visa, and permanent residency instead of full citizenship. These differences can be easily solved in case of heterosexual couples, but in case of gay couples which can not get married, there isn’t any other alternative. Same-gender couples are exposed to a procedure which does not provide them equal rights, seemingly because of their sexual preferences.
Being a democratic, liberal state that provides equal rights to all citizens, the state should promote laws, procedures and acts that give equal rights to all. The procedure for regulating the status of Israeli citizens’ unmarried partners, whether intentionally or unintentionally, does not provide equal rights to same-gender couples. In our opinion, there is room for revoking the legal aspects of that procedure, and to change it to allow same-gender partners to have the same terms that are available to married couples.
All said and explained in this article does not constitute a legal opinion and does not replace legal advice. Responsibility for using the wordings and opinions conveyed in this article relies solely and entirely on the reader.
This article was written by Dotan Cohen Law Offices, working in the field of immigration law in the United States, Israel, Canada and Australia.