Common-law Family Members of Foreign Experts

Establishing a mutual love relationship between couples is still done by marriage and marriage ceremony in most cases. The marriage institution is still very popular all over the world, based everywhere on similar principles – a public binding attachment between a couple. However, each country has developed a set of rules, regulations and laws for setting the status of the individual. For example, the State of Israel recognizes marriage between Jews in Israel only if conducted in a religious manner. Since the authority of handling and certifying marriages is in the hand of religious officials, civil marriages between Jewish couples, in Israel, are out of the question. On the other hand, if a couple departs Israel and gets married elsewhere, in a civil ceremony, the marriage will be recognized by the State of Israel.

Common-law marriage has developed, throughout the years, in parallel to the marriage institution, and it is recognized in much of the world. Common law marriage occurs when a couple mutually chooses to conduct their mutual relationship and family ties, for various personal reasons, and of their own free will, without marriage or religious recognition. Many countries consider that status as acceptable and award such couples most, if not all, the privileges a married couple is entitled to. The State of Israel has recognized that status, and the Family Laws Court has determined in its rulings that a couple can be defined as publicly Common-laws if they:

  1. Live together as husband and wife and have a romantic intimate relationship as any other married couple.
  2. Conduct and share the same household and expenses, and maintain regular family life.

Although the status of common-law was not yet regulated by legislation, Court has defined it broadly in many cases. The status is also recognized for inheritance purposes, and is mentioned in the social security law and the income-securing law, all awarding such couples most of the privileges a married couple is entitled to. In addition to that, this status is recognized also by the Ministry of Interior (“MOI”) authorities – such couples can change their family name into a mutual family name, together with their spouse. Their mutual children can adopt the family name of one parent or of both parents. The MOI also recognizes the status of a foreign spouse living together with an Israeli partner. In such cases, the spouse is entitled to receive a one-year to three years B/1 Work Visa, and his or her status will be changed into temporary resident for a period of 4 additional years, after which an application for permanent residency can be submitted.

Foreign experts and Common-Law Status

Many companies in Israel rely on importing foreign experts from all over the world. Those experts provide skills and knowledge which do not exist in Israel. There is also a huge need in Israel for Senior Management. The procedure of receiving permission to engage foreign experts which leads to obtaining a one-year working permit, allows hiring experts – each one to a period of five years and three months in total. The experts must meet several requirements, in order to qualify for this procedure:

  1. Skills and professionalism of the foreign experts
  2. Management and/or development positions
  3. Contribution of the foreign expert to creating additional working posts in Israel
  4. Transfer of knowledge and expertise, which does not exist in Israel
  5. High level of education and professionalism
  6. Salary amounting twice average local salary

All these elements and other considerations are checked by the MOI and the relevant authorities before decision is taken.

Foreign experts and their family members

Unlike foreign workers, foreign experts contribute knowledge and expertise that cannot be found in Israel, and stay long periods of time, up to several years. As a result, Israeli MOI enables their families to join them. The families can join the experts after submitting a request to the local MOI office, to request or prolong the family’s Entry Visas, all in accordance with the Work Permit issued to the expert. The requests will be considered in the local MOI offices and sometimes also in the MOI headquarters in Jerusalem. Usually, all requests are approved, unless there are circumstances or reasons for refusal.

This procedure is logical and is conducted in many countries, including USA and Canada, for relocating families. One of its faults, though, is the lack of consideration in cases of Common-Law couples, even though this status is recognized and accepted in other situations. Applications submitted on behalf of Common-Law spouses and children of foreign experts are being refused on the grounds that this status is not recognized by MOI. The applications can be submitted to MOI Jerusalem headquarters, but the situation remains the same. The status and privileges of foreign experts’ family members, not married in the traditional fashion, are not regulated.

Why did the State of Israel, in general, and the Israeli MOI especially, decide to recognize the status of Common-Laws when it concerns inheritance, personal status, and other basic essential cases, and yet refuse recognition of foreign experts’ Common-Laws spouses and children? These regulations are opposed to the tendency of the legal system to generally recognize Common-Law status, and award them the privileges of any other married couple. This problematic issue results in a situation where the State of Israel creates partial acceptance of the common law marriage while discriminating against some of those couples.

Summary and Conclusions

The status of Common-Laws is recognized in various connotations by the state of Israel and its legal institutions, including laws of inheritance, social security law, etc. Moreover, it was publicly and widely recognized by local courts and the legal system, which issued also guidelines for checking true nature and sincerity of such mutual ties. In our opinion, recognition of that special status means awarding Common-Laws spouses of foreign experts the same privileges provided to married couples. We think the regulations concerning invitation of foreign experts’ family members must be amended accordingly, so that the Common-Law family members are not deprived of these privileges.

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.