Interior Ministry proposes law to restrict passports for new immigrants

Legislation would only allow new arrivals to receive documentation after residing in Israel for 1 year; ministry says some exploit benefits without settling down

Illustrative: Immigrants fleeing from war zones in the Ukraine arrive at the Israeli immigration and absorption office, at the Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv, on March 15, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/ Flash90)
Illustrative: Immigrants fleeing from war zones in the Ukraine arrive at the Israeli immigration and absorption office, at the Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv, on March 15, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/ Flash90)

The Interior Ministry on Tuesday introduced legislation to only allow new immigrants to Israel to receive a passport after they have spent a year in the country.

The legislation is meant to prevent people who receive Israeli citizenship but don’t settle down in the country from getting a passport.

Shas’s MK Michael Malkieli introduced the bill on behalf of the ministry. Malkieli is the religious services minister and is serving as the acting interior minister in place of Shas party leader Aryeh Deri following the latter’s removal by the High Court of Justice for his criminal convictions.

The proposed passport law effectively nullifies a legislative agreement the government made with the Yisrael Beytenu party in 2017 to ease documentation for new immigrants, Haaretz reported.

The proposed law says the 2017 passport legislation led to a steep rise in the number of new immigrants, known as olim, who received Israeli passports without settling down in Israel.

Between June 2021 and June 2022, 4,094 new immigrants requested a passport within a month of getting citizenship, but 60% did not remain in Israel, the law proposal said, according to Haaretz.

Shas MK Michael Malkieli arrives for coalition talks at a hotel in Jerusalem on November 17, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The bill has not yet been placed on the legislative agenda.

The Immigration and Absorption Ministry has said it suspects some abuse the current conditions to enjoy the payments of so-called “absorption packages” without actually settling in the country.

The memorandum said the reported trend matched data from the Population and Immigration Authority, which said more new immigrants were leaving the country since the 2017 law was passed — especially from France and Russia.

Shas chief Aryeh Deri leads a Knesset faction meeting on February 6, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Deri in January announced he intended to advance the new legislation, saying that arrivals “taking advantage of their right to a passport and the absorption package and after a short time returning to where they came from is not acceptable.”

Religious parties in the coalition have also pushed for the cancellation of the so-called “grandchild clause” of the Law of Return, which grants citizenship to anyone with at least one Jewish grandparent, provided they don’t practice another religion.

Religious parties — the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism and Shas, and the national-religious Otzma Yehudit and Religious Zionism — argue that since many of the people immigrating to Israel under this clause are not Jewish according to most interpretations of Jewish law, it weakens the state’s Jewish character.

The issue has sparked fierce pushback from Diaspora Jewish communities and opposition lawmakers.

Last year, over 70,000 people immigrated to Israel, the highest number in decades. The dramatic increase was driven by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its crackdowns at home, with more than half of new immigrants in 2022 coming from Russia and a fifth from Ukraine.

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