High Court nixes Israel’s quota for entry of Ukrainian refugees

Judges rule that existing regulations allow visitors from Ukraine to stay for three months without a visa, reject state’s claim they will stay longer

Ukrainians disembark from a special flight to Israel from Romania upon landing at Ben Gurion Airport, March 8, 2022 (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)
Ukrainians disembark from a special flight to Israel from Romania upon landing at Ben Gurion Airport, March 8, 2022 (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)

The High Court of Justice on Sunday overturned Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked’s orders to cap the number of Ukrainian refugees fleeing the war who are allowed to enter the country.

Thousands of Ukrainians have come to Israel in the wake of Russia’s February invasion of their country.

Under existing regulations, Ukrainians do not need a visa for a visit of up to three months in Israel. In March, Shaked said Israel would allow some 20,000 Ukrainians who were on tourist visas or in the country illegally before the Russian invasion to remain. She also said Israel grant would visas to a further 5,000 refugees who do not automatically qualify for immigration to Israel under the Law of Return, which allows anyone who has a Jewish parent or grandparent to receive Israeli citizenship.

Shaked also introduced a requirement that Ukrainians fill in an online application form before even leaving their home and heading to Israel.

In ruling in favor of a petition against Shaked’s quota, the court rejected the state’s sweeping assertion that those who arrive on the three-month visa would overstay their allowed visits and pointed to figures showing that since the war broke out, 4,409 Ukrainian who entered Israel had left by May 8.

It also noted that the wording of the existing regulations, according to which Ukrainians don’t need a visa, makes no mention of any special circumstances under which the rules would not apply. It also said that changing the regulations would require involvement by Knesset committees.

However, the court clarified that its ruling does not detract from the interior minister’s authority to decide who can enter the country, according to the provisions of the law, or her right to refuse Ukrainian citizens entry into the country on an individual basis at her discretion.

Illustrative: Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked at a press conference at Ben Gurion Airport, March 13, 2022. (Roy Alima/Flash90)

The petition was filed by the Tomer Warsha law firm, which specializes in immigration law, and which has been helping Ukrainians enter the country.

“We are very satisfied that the High Court accepted our claims and ruled that the interior minister acted against the provisions of the law. We are happy that Ukrainian citizens, who are still in the war, can find quiet in Israel alongside their family and friends,” Warsha said in a statement.

“It is important to make clear that from now on there is no more Shaked framework, there is no limit of only 5,000 people, there is no need to fill in an online form,” he added.

Barely a week after Shaked announced her quota plan, Israeli authorities said the number of Ukrainians who had arrived was nearing the limit.

The cap divided the government coalition at the time, with the Meretz party opposing it. It also drew fierce criticism from Ukraine, which said it flouted the visa agreement between the two countries.

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