What is the step-by-step procedure  and who does it apply to?

Family reunion step-by-step procedure is the process of family reunification between Israelis and foreign spouses in Israel, regulated by legislation and specific instructions from the immigration service.

This process is intentionally complex and depends on numerous factors. In this article we have attempted to provide a detailed description of everything important to know about the step-by-step procedure.

Israeli citizenship in Israel is never granted automatically. Israel encourages repatriation and openly opposes non-Jewish immigration. The family reunification procedure, which involves granting status to a non-Jew and a foreigner not covered by the Law of Return, is inherently complex and requires precision, competence, and persistence from the couple.

Life Center and Family Reunion Process

If you are planning to initiate the family reunification procedure, StuPro, in Israel, be aware: for your wife to live in Israel and eventually obtain Israeli citizenship, your family must reside here permanently. This means an actual relocation and continuous residence in Israel. Permanent residency in the most literal sense. Many clients wonder how much time needs to be spent here, what “permanently” and “life center” mean. These are quite complex and flexible concepts, but in simplified terms, the “life center” in the context of StuPro means the physical presence of the entire family in Israel for 10 months out of 12 in each calendar year.

What is important to know about StuPro? The procedure requires serious preparation and the submission of numerous documents, which can be challenging to understand, let alone obtain.

It is also important to understand that interacting with the Israeli system will consume a significant amount of time and emotional resources. The system is overloaded and imperfect, and you will need to know how to engage with it.

Simultaneous Interview

How does the step-by-step procedure work in general? It all starts with the remote submission of the application. However, the application needs to be prepared and accompanied by the necessary documents.

After the remote submission of documents, the department begins to review them. Typically, this process takes from two to five to six months, during which the system analyzes the case and makes a decision.

If everything is in order with the application and there are no complicating factors, the foreign spouse should receive permission to move to Israel for permanent residency. However, if there are issues in the case, the Ministry of Interior may schedule a simultaneous interview for the couple in two different countries.

This type of interview is particularly relevant in cases where the foreign spouse or partner is located abroad.

The Israeli will undergo the interview at the local office of the immigration service in Israel, while the foreign spouse will have the interview at the Israeli consulate in the country where he or she resides.

In what cases can a simultaneous interview be scheduled?

Short-term relationships: If you have been in romantic relationships for a short period, the system may have questions and doubts. The most reliable (from the Ministry of Interior’s perspective) way to dispel these doubts is to conduct a simultaneous interview with you.

Illegal stay in Israel. If your spouse or fiancé/fiancée has previously been in Israel illegally, a very serious synchronous interview awaits you.

Previous family reunion procedure: If you or your spouse went through the step-by-step procedure in the past with other partners, you are likely to face a simultaneous interview in two countries.

Significant age difference: If there is a significant age difference between you and your spouse, it may also lead to the scheduling of a simultaneous interview.

Violation of visa regulations: Perhaps it is unnecessary to explain that violating visa regulations in Israel can have serious legal consequences for the foreigner. Even if you were not deported from Israel due to a visa violation, and even if there is no “deportation” stamp in your passport upon leaving the country, know this: according to regulations, you are automatically placed on a “blacklist,” and entry into Israel is prohibited for at least 5 years. Naturally, being included in the list of unreliable foreigners means that your family reunification procedure falls into the category of complex cases. The system will exercise much greater caution and mistrust here. Therefore, a preliminary simultaneous interview in two countries is highly likely.

If you or your spouse ended previous relationships and divorced shortly before your marriage or the start of new relationships, this circumstance may raise suspicion from the Ministry of Interior (MVD) and, as a result, push the system toward a preliminary simultaneous interview in two countries.

If you or your spouse has a “complex family situation,” there is a high probability of a preliminary synchronous interview in two countries. What is a complex family situation? You or your spouse initiate the family reunion process while formally married to another person. Perhaps you have a valid reason, such as your chosen one being in a lengthy divorce process, etc. However, no valid reason deprives the Israeli Ministry of Interior of the right to have doubts and at least exercise caution in such situations. Therefore, a scenario involving a preliminary interview in two countries is highly likely here.

If you are in a same-sex marriage or same-sex relationship, it is also quite likely that the Ministry of Interior will condition the initiation of the family reunion procedure with an interview in two countries.

Of course, the situation becomes much more complicated if you declare a same-sex relationship after previously being in a heterosexual marriage.

Criminal record or open criminal case. In the family reunification process through StuPro, the foreign spouse provides, among other things, a certificate of no criminal record (related article here). If the foreigner has a past criminal record, or if the Israeli spouse has open criminal cases, there is a high probability that the Ministry of Interior will conduct a preliminary interview in two countries.

Israeli citizenship obtained in a previous marriage: If the Israeli spouse obtained Israeli citizenship through the family reunification or repatriation process in a previous marriage, the Ministry of Interior will scrutinize the new family reunion application much more carefully and likely order a preliminary interview in two countries. This is especially relevant if the time between obtaining Israeli citizenship and divorce is short.

Previous requests for status: If the foreign spouse previously requested Israeli citizenship, permanent residency, temporary residency, political asylum, humanitarian status, etc., the system automatically blacklists them. The situation does not change even if they left the country voluntarily and without violating the visa regime. Therefore, if a foreigner, who had previously applied for any status, submits an application for the legalization of marriage and family reunification through StuPro, the Ministry of Interior will conduct a preliminary interview in two countries.

If close relatives of the foreign spouse are permanently or temporarily residing in Israel, the system may perceive this as additional risks and condition the initiation of the family reunification and marriage legalization procedure (family reunion) with a preliminary interview in two countries.

If the foreign spouse applied for repatriation in the past but could not prove their Jewish roots or received a rejection for another reason, the family reunion procedure in such a situation will proceed with an increased risk. In this case, the system is likely to schedule a preliminary interview in two countries.

If the Israeli spouse is disabled, the Ministry of Interior will primarily want to ascertain whether the family reunion process is not an attempt to bring a caregiver from abroad. In such a situation, the system will definitely conduct a preliminary interview in two countries.

If the Israeli spouse is bankrupt or financially disadvantaged, the Ministry of Interior may also initiate the process with suspicions of fictitiousness. In such a situation, a preliminary interview in two countries is often scheduled.

All these (and many other) cases raise additional questions and scrutiny from officials to ensure the authenticity of relationships and compliance with the law. Understanding these nuances in a timely manner can help you prepare for a possible synchronous interview in advance and reduce risks. In inherently complex cases, we recommend seeking advice from lawyers who specialize in Israeli citizenship and status issues and regularly practice in these areas. Our legal office has extensive experience in these matters, including Israeli citizenship, permanent residency in Israel, family reunification, marriage legalization, repatriation, and aliyah.

Ministry of Interior’s Logic

The complex situations mentioned above in the family reunion process may prompt officials to have specific questions and doubts, but this does not necessarily foretell an inevitable rejection of the procedure. It is essential to understand that officials are merely fulfilling their obligations and striving to ensure compliance with the law. If your situation resembles the examples given above, be prepared for a very serious process and arm yourself with a good lawyer.

Relationship History

When you open a case for the step-by-step family reunion procedure to obtain permanent resident status in Israel, the most crucial “document,” largely determining the fate of the process, is a detailed history of your relationship. The relationship history plays a significant role in the process, and it is important to understand how this narrative is composed. Not everything that comes to your mind should be reflected in your relationship history. Daily accompanying couples in the family reunification process in Israel, we constantly advise people on the seemingly mundane task of narrating their history. Experience shows that people often include information in the story that at the very least does not help them and sometimes even harms them.

If your history is too detailed, lengthy, confusing, inconsistent, or illogical, the Ministry of Interior may easily put the brakes on the case and schedule a preliminary interview in two countries. In such cases, officials seek to understand the details of your history better to grasp who you are, how you met, and how your relationship developed. This is especially important when there are additional complicating factors (see the list above).

Passport Change

We are often asked whether it is possible to simply change the foreign passport to hide information about deportation or other issues from the Israeli Ministry of Interior. Having worked with the Israeli immigration service for many years and knowing its capabilities and logic, we strongly discourage attempting to deceive the system. The agency has vast experience and a substantial toolkit that helps uncover such manipulations, so it is not worth playing with fate. If you are caught attempting to hide crucial information by changing your passport, your path to Israel will be blocked.

Simultaneous Interview in Family Reunion Procedure – A Controlled Process

As you’ve noticed, there are numerous examples of complex situations. It’s crucial to understand that the Ministry of Interior (MoI) may have questions at any stage of the process, and you need to be thoroughly prepared for these questions in family reunion procedure.

Simultaneous remote interviews are one of the procedures that can be scheduled precisely to obtain clarifying or explanatory answers from you. It’s advisable to try to avoid this procedure, but if it is still scheduled for you, you must understand how it works.

Drawbacks of the Simultaneous Family Reunion Interview

Problem number one: during the interview conducted outside Israel, you won’t have a lawyer with you. No lawyer is allowed because lawyers are not admitted in these cases. And this is a serious drawback.

Problem number two: since there won’t be a lawyer with you, no one can help you with translation, or more precisely, no one can verify the correctness and accuracy of the translation of your answers, on which a lot depends.

Let’s give an example: you are undergoing a simultaneous remote interview at the Israeli Embassy in Berlin. This interview will be conducted in German. According to the regulations, the official (an employee of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs) will summarize your answers in writing in Hebrew. At the end of the interview, the official may show you the text, but the summary compiled by them will be in Hebrew, and you won’t be able to ensure that the transcript accurately reflects everything you said.

Here, serious problems often arise. We know many cases where, due to annoying and gross translation errors, the system denied people the right to family reunification, and then we and our colleagues sometimes have to fight for this elementary right in court for years.

Problem number three: if the application is being processed in the “regular” registry, the interview is conducted only in Israel, and one official does it, communicating with the spouse and listening to them, looking into their eyes, immersing themselves in the context. This is one person. However, if the immigration authority conducts an interview in two countries, two officials work here, two heads, two different worlds. As a result, 50% of what one interviewer catches – background, context, facial expressions, voice, eyes – is lost. As a consequence, a separate interview in two countries is much more difficult to pass. And after receiving a rejection, you have to fight at the pre-trial and – often – court levels, which always turns into serious stress, significant expenses, and long energy-consuming processes. Disputing with the immigration authority can take six months, a year, or a year and a half. This is with a good and energetic immigration lawyer. Without a lawyer or with a bad lawyer, this story can easily stretch for 3-4 years.

Your and our task (if we are working with you in the family reunification and marriage legalization process) is to try to prevent the scheduling of a simultaneous remote interview in two countries, but it’s not always possible. In complex cases, the likelihood of such an interview is high, and if it is scheduled for you, you need to minimize potential harm, reduce risks, prepare as well as possible, and try to expedite the process.

Family Reunion and Children from the Previous Marriage

The first rule to remember: the foreign partner can include their minor children in the process only if the couple is officially married. Within the family reunion procedure for joint residency, it was not possible to include a child in the process (or rather, it is possible but is a much more complex task), but this rule has recently changed.

If your child is over 15 years old, and you have been residing in Israel for more than two years, not being actively involved in raising the child, leaving them in another country (with grandparents, for example), this is an important nuance. You will need to provide the system with both factual and legal evidence that you have been caring for the child over the last two years.

If your son or daughter is 17 years old at the time of applying for family reunion process, this is also a significant circumstance. The closer the child is to turning 18, the stronger the resistance of the material, the more challenging your process, and the higher the likelihood that the system will look for any reason to refuse.

If the child is over 17 years old, the decision is made by the central department of the Ministry of Interior, and this can be a complex and lengthy process. Often, the authority intentionally delays making a decision, waiting for the age of 18 to deny the application. In such a situation, it is necessary to consult an experienced immigration lawyer “yesterday.”

If you meet the family reunion procedure criteria and plan to start the process, know that you are obliged to provide the Ministry of Interior with the biological father’s permission for your child to immigrate to Israel permanently.

Such permission can be obtained from a notary at the place of residence or at the Israeli embassy. It’s crucial to know the exact text needed in this situation, what to write to the other parent, what consents to give, and in what form to legalize the document.

But what if the second parent is against it? In this case, numerous problems arise. If the ex-husband is deprived of parental rights by the court, the Ministry of Interior will require the corresponding court decision (as always – properly legalized). Here, you need to thoroughly understand the document’s text.

If the second parent does not exist and is not even mentioned in the child’s birth certificate, a myriad of difficulties and nuances arise. Each specific case requires a special solution, taking into account the country of document issuance and all case circumstances. But know – this is a serious problem that requires a very serious approach. Without a specialized lawyer, it is unlikely to be resolved.

We often face such challenges and sometimes resort to the assistance of foreign colleagues, the Ministry of Justice, etc. We have good experience and established schemes, but sometimes we have to invent new solutions.

How to Interact with the Ministry of Interior (MoI) and Communicate Effectively with the System?

There are numerous myths and legends about the Ministry of Interior in Israel. Many people have experienced arbitrariness, rude treatment, inattentiveness, and callousness firsthand. However, the often unfavorable evaluations that the system rightfully receives in certain cases do not always objectively reflect reality.

The reality is that the immigration authority, firstly, is heavily burdened with work, and secondly, poorly functions at the organizational level. The agency faces complex tasks, numerous challenges, a shortage of personnel, and the process itself is poorly organized.

But we have what we have. For effective interaction with the immigration authority, it’s better to take into account the system’s objective, organic problems and assist where possible.

Immigration officials have a specific task – to verify relationships between foreigners and Israelis for sincerity or fictitiousness during the family reunion process. If, after verification, officials conclude that the relationships are genuine, they simply follow the law and grant foreign nationals status. However, to achieve this, you first need to prove to the system that you have genuine relationships. Understanding that officials are doing their job following instructions and trying to avoid mistakes will help you in this process. In most cases, it’s not personal.

If you send letters to the immigration authority, don’t expect them to be read immediately. It’s unlikely. Count on the possibility that they might read and respond on the third or fourth attempt.

Obtaining Israeli Citizenship – Rules Often Change on the Fly

It’s also important to understand that the system constantly makes changes to the rules. For example, when initiating the family reunification procedure in March 2023, you may encounter specific rules, and by June 2023, those rules may change – requiring additional documents from you. You need to be mentally prepared for any scenario and provide the system with what it demands whenever possible.

It’s worth knowing: the family reunion procedure operates in the field of administrative law, where the criterion of adequacy is in effect. If the officials’ requirements are correct, adequate, and comply with the prescribed regulations (even after changing them on the fly), we recommend following them and opting for a dialogue over conflict. The additional effort you may have to put in to search for new documents is still better than engaging in a dispute.

Disputes with the Ministry of Interior are almost always longer, more painful, significantly more expensive, and not always victorious. If there is no other option, you need to dispute, and it should be done intelligently. However, at the very least, strive for constructive dialogue with the authority and reserve legal action as a last resort.

For success in the matter, it’s crucial to thoroughly prepare for the process and gather maximum information about possible requirements and documents that may be needed.

There is no magic key; there’s a complex process, experience, knowledge, intuition, search, and effort. When interacting with the immigration authority, focus on solving your specific problem and avoid delving into theory. Don’t try to fix the entire system. Disputes and attempts to change the system as a whole usually don’t help and often do harm. It’s better to strive for solving specific problems and efficient interaction with officials, considering the circumstances of your case and the shortcomings of the system.

Author: Arthur Blaer, attorney at law

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