Citizenship in Israel and the paths to become a citizen in Israel are determined in the Citizenship Law 5722-1952 (hereinafter: “the Citizenship Law”) that was enacted in 1952. In 1980, when the need arose several sections of the law were amended. The Citizenship Law prescribes seven ways to obtain Israeli citizenship.
Citizenship by virtue of the Law of Return (Section 2 of the Citizenship Law)
The Law of Return stipulates the right of every Jew to immigrate to Israel and settle there. The Citizenship Law (section 2) states that: “Everyone who immigrates under the Law of Return, 5750-1950, will be an Israeli citizen by virtue of the right of return.”
- A person who immigrated to Israel or was born in Israel before the establishment of the State will be entitled to receive citizenship from the date of the establishment of the State.
- A person who immigrated to Israel after the establishment of the State is entitled to receive Israeli citizenship from the date of his immigration.
- Anyone born in Israel after the establishment of the State is entitled to receive citizenship from the day of his birth.
- A person who has received an immigrant certificate under section 3 of the Law of Return is entitled to receive citizenship from the date of the certificate.
Citizenship granted under the Law of Return is based on the fundament of “blood ties”, blood affiliation to the Jewish people. The Minister of the Interior may also grant citizenship under the Law of Return to a Jew who has expressed his desire to immigrate to Israel and is entitled to an immigrant visa, and who has expressed his request for citizenship, even before immigrating to Israel. This enabled the Jews of the Soviet Union, who wanted to immigrate to Israel and even relinquished their Soviet citizenship for this purpose, to obtain Israeli citizenship even before they immigrated to Israel.
There are several ways to prove if someone is Jewish. The first is showing official documents attesting to his Jewish religion. A letter from a well-known community Rabbi that testifies to his acquaintance with the family and states that the family is Jewish, can also be very helpful. There is additional evidence that can also help.
Israeli citizenship is granted by the right of return to a Jew as well as to his family members: spouse, child, grandson, spouse of a child and spouse of a grandchild, even if they are not Jews.
The Law of Return stipulates the right of a Jew to immigrate to Israel, and the Citizenship Law establishes the right of a Jew to Israeli citizenship. Anyone to whom the Law of Return applies is entitled to Israeli citizenship from the date that they immigrate to Israel. Citizenship by virtue of return is based on belonging to the Jewish people and on the birth or residence of a Jew in Israel.
Citizenship by virtue of Settlement in Israel on the eve of its establishment (Section 3 of the Citizenship Law)
Section 3 of the Citizenship Law grants Israeli citizenship to non-Jews who resided in Israel on the eve of the establishment of the State. A person who on the eve of the establishment of the State was a subject of Palestine and did not become an Israeli citizen by virtue of the Law of Return above, will be an Israeli citizen from the date of the establishment of the state if the following conditions are met:
- A person who was on 01.03.1952 registered as a resident according to the Residents’ Registry Ordinance, 1949.
- On the day, the law came into force, he was a resident of Israel.
- From the date of the establishment of the State until the date of application of this law was in Israel or in the territory that became the territory of Israel after the establishment of the State or during this period entered Israel legally.
A person who was born after the establishment of the State and on the day the law came into force was a resident of Israel and his father or mother became an Israeli citizen, will be an Israeli citizen from the day of his birth.
In 1980, an amendment was added to the law according to which non-Jewish residents whom they or their parents were not registered in the population register in 1952 (the year the law was adopted) but were registered in the population register in 1980, will also be entitled to citizenship by settlement in Israel.
Citizenship by birth (Section 4 of the Citizenship Law)
Israeli citizenship by birth is granted to:
- A person born in Israel and his father and / or mother were citizens of Israel.
- A person born outside of Israel, if his father or mother were previously citizens of Israel and lived in Israel.
However, a person who was born outside Israel and became an Israeli citizen because his parents were citizens of Israel – will not be able to transfer the citizenship to his children. In other words, the fundament of “blood ties” exists for a person born outside of Israel to only one generation. Until 1980, every person born to a father or mother of Israeli citizens became an Israeli citizen. This means that Israeli citizenship was also granted to those who have no affiliation with Israel. The amendment to the law in 1980 limits the fundament of “blood ties” to only one generation.
Citizenship by virtue of birth and residence in Israel (Section 4A of the Citizenship Law)
This section applies to non-Jews. Anyone who was born in Israel after the establishment of the State and has never had any citizenship, may apply for Israeli citizenship, but only on two conditions:
- The application was filed between his 18th birthday and 21st
- He has been a resident of Israel for 5 consecutive years prior to his application.
The Minister of the Interior may refuse the application if the applicant has been convicted in the past against the State security or has been sentenced to 5 years or more in prison. This section regulates the right to citizenship of non-Jewish residents of Israel whose parents were not registered in the population register when the law was passed in 1952.
Citizenship by virtue of adoption (section 4B of the Citizenship Law)
Section 4 of the Citizenship Law initially stipulates that a person born in Israel, and his parents are Israeli, will be an Israeli citizen. The same is true when it comes to a person who was born in a foreign country but whose parents are Israelis. Moreover, even when it comes to a minor resident of a foreign country, adopted by Israeli parents, that minor will be an Israeli citizen, and these are the requirements for obtaining citizenship in this case:
- The minor was adopted according to the Adoption of Children Law, 5741-1981, when his or her adoptive father or mother was an Israeli citizen.
- The minor was adopted outside of Israel when his or her adoptive father or mother was an Israeli citizen, provided that the adoptees were not residents of Israel on the day of adoption and the consent of both adoptive parents was given.
Citizenship in Israel by virtue of naturalization (Section 5 of the Citizenship Law)
A person who wishes to obtain Israeli citizenship by virtue of naturalization is required to meet the following conditions:
- Physically lives in Israel;
- Stayed in Israel for three years out of a period of five years prior to the day of submitting the application for citizenship;
- Eligible to live in Israel on a permanent basis;
- Able to show that he intends to settle in the country;
- Has the knowledge of the Hebrew language;
- Is willing to relinquish his previous citizenship or proves that he will cease to be a foreign citizen when he becomes an Israeli citizen;
- Before obtaining citizenship, the applicant will declare: “I declare that I will be a loyal citizen of the State of Israel.”
Even if the applicant for Israeli citizenship has met all the conditions, the Minister of the Interior has the discretion to decide whether to grant him this right. However, a spouse of an Israeli citizen, can apply for citizenship, even if the above conditions are not met.
Citizenship by virtue of the grant
The Minister of the Interior may grant citizenship when the State is interested in various reasons in granting citizenship to a person who identifies with the State of Israel and its goals. For example, to someone who served (or who serves in the IDF), to a minor who did not acquire citizenship at birth or to outstanding athletes (mostly basketball or football players) who are living in Israel.
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 Israel, the United States and Canada.