This guide provides some information on the process of obtaining a residency/work visa for the non-Israeli partner of an Israeli citizen. In Israel, this couple is applying for a status called ידועים בציבור ("known in public") or unregistered cohabitation ("unregistered" meaning not married or legally registered; comparable to common-law relationships), which does not afford all the rights of a married couple but does allow for immigration rights. This guide is applicable to both opposite-sex and same-sex unmarried couples. Married couples go through a similar but different application process.
Be aware: these are not immigration rights under the Law of Return; there are no aliyah benefits granted to the non-Jewish partner of an Israeli. Non-Jewish spouses of Jews making aliyah fall under a different category, and qualify for citizenship, aliyah rights, etc.
This guide is written by an American, therefore some of the details may be unique to United States. Hopefully this will provide at least some guidance for people from other countries as to how to go about obtaining an Israeli visa.
All information contained in this guide is from either personal experience, or from first-hand accounts of people who have also gone through this process.
1. Before travelling to Israel, you must collect a number of documents:
From the non-Israeli partner:
- Birth certificate, official copy*
- Certificate of good conduct/criminal background check (for US citizens: state of current residence and FBI)*
- Certificate of non-marriage*
- Transcripts/university and college degrees**
- Proof of health insurance, either local or foreign
From the Israeli partner:
- Paycheck receipts
- Proof of residency registration at that Ministry of Interior branch
From both partners:
- Letter from the couple detailing the history of their relationship (when they met, how they met, etc.)
- Letter from the parents/immediate relatives of each person (English or Hebrew) attesting to the relationship***
- Photos of the couple with friends/family, on vacation, etc.
- Two standard passport photos of each partner
- Apartment lease with both names on it
- Bank account statements with both names on it
- Bills (water/electricity/Internet/arnona) with both names on them
- Two forms of government issued ID, including a valid passport
- Old/expired passports
- Proof of living expenses for up to six months
*requires Apostille or federal certification
**non-government documents need to be issued by the institution, notarized by a notary public, the notarization certified at the county courthouse, and then the certification Apostilled by the state's Secretary of State (in the US).
***these letters are to be written by the relative without help from the person submitting the application. Parents are best, but siblings are also acceptable.
A note of warning: the collecting and certifying of documents takes A LOT OF TIME. The US FBI background check alone takes 8-10 weeks, and mailing documents to your state's Secretary of State to have them apostilled can take another month. Given all the bureaucracy involved, you can't start early enough.
- Correspondence between the couple if significant time was spent apart
- Cards/letters/postcards between the couple and friends/family
- Tickets/receipts from trips or vacations together
- Letters from friends attesting to the relationship
The Ministry of Interior (מסרד הפנים) can be contacted to obtain a list of what is required , though it's best to check if an updated list is available. Remember that it's better to bring too much than too little.
2. When the non-Israeli partner arrives to Israel, they should enter on a B/2/ב tourist visa which can be obtained at the border. For citizens of countries which require obtaining a visa beforehand, the Israeli partner may be able to expedite this process by contacting their local Ministry of Interior office.
3. Once both partners are in Israel, they must have a preliminary meeting with the Ministry of the Interior. This meeting can be scheduled before arrival in the county, but both partners must be present at the meeting itself. The meeting must be scheduled with the Ministry of Interior branch which serves the area where you will be living (ie. you can't apply at the Tel Aviv branch if you're living in Haifa). Also, the Israeli partner must register their residency with that same Ministry of Interior branch before the application can be submitted.
Bring with you all the documents listed above, as well as photocopies of everything. The woman at our meeting kept the photocopies and returned the originals, saying with a smile, "we have a tendency to lose things".
This preliminary meeting will mainly be paperwork, paying, and submitting your required documents. The application for a work/residency visa is 165 NIS. You can also apply for a multiple entry visa, which is another 165 NIS (prices as of 08/2010).
At this meeting you will schedule your follow-up meeting, which is usually 8-12 weeks later. Remember that, during this time, you are not legally permitted to work in Israel; however, you are allowed to work for a foreign company (eg. an American can work for an American-based company). This is why the Ministry of Interior requires that you show six months worth of living expenses at your initial meeting.
If you entered the country on a three-month B/2/ב tourist visa, it will likely expire before your second meeting. You are legally allowed to reside in the country while your application is pending even if your tourist visa expires. The Ministry of Interior will give you a receipt when you submit your application fee, showing that you have a visa application pending, which you can show to authorities if you need to prove your immigration status.
4. Your second meeting will consist of separate interviews with the Ministry of Interior. The interview is mainly detailing aspects of your relationship (how you met, major events, etc.) to prove to them that you are truly a couple. You will also need to bring photos, bills and bank statements you have received since the initial meeting, as well as any additional documentation the Ministry may have requested.
At this meeting, you may or may not receive your work/residency visa. Foreign partners coming from Western countries seem to have an easier time getting their applications approved, compared to people coming from developing countries. If you don't receive your visa at this meeting, the Ministry of Interior agent will tell you when and how you will receive the decision on your application, usually within 4-6 weeks following the second meeting.
The ultimate decision about your application is usually decided by the agent you're meeting with (you'll meet with the same agent both times), so be nice and polite and relaxed. If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to worry about. Since there's no legal definition of an unregistered couple, it truly is up to the discrepancy of the Ministry of Interior agent whether or not to approve your visa application based on the interview and documentation you've brought.
If your application is successful, you will receive a B/1/ב work visa with a "partner (בן/בת זוג)" notation, which is valid for one year. After one year, you will need to submit a renewal application, which consists of evidence that the relationship has continued: a new lease with both names on it showing you are still living together; bank statements with both names on it; bills and arnona with both names on it; photos of the couple with friends and family; tickets from vacations taken together; etc. If the couple moves in the meantime, the couple's file (תיק) must be transferred to the Ministry of Interior office which serves the area where they have moved to, and the Israeli partner must register in with that branch.
After the initial renewal, the visa will not need to be renewed for another two years. At this point (three years total), the visa will convert to an A/1/א visa. At this point, the foreign partner will be able to apply for kupat cholim, register with professional associations (doctors, lawyers, etc.), and other privileges. The A/1/א visa does not need to be renewed annually, but every few years. Be aware that if the foreign partner leaves the country for any extended period of time (to study, to work, etc.), the Ministry of Interior must be notified in writing of their absence and their return. After seven years of total residency in the country, the foreign partner will receive permanent residency.