Israel to extend visas of Ukrainian refugees, allow them to work

Decision applies to Ukrainians who came after the Russian invasion; those who were in Israel illegally before won’t be allowed to work; Shaked to reexamine issue in 30 days

Ukrainian immigrants to Israel who fled fighting in Ukraine arrive on a rescue flight at Ben Gurion Airport, on March 17, 2022. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)
Ukrainian immigrants to Israel who fled fighting in Ukraine arrive on a rescue flight at Ben Gurion Airport, on March 17, 2022. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

The Interior Ministry announced Monday that it will automatically extend the tourist visas of Ukrainian citizens currently in Israel through June 30 and allow them to work.

Since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, more than 28,000 Ukrainians have entered Israel, including Jews, joining thousands who were already in the country when war broke out.

Jewish Ukrainians can apply for citizenship under Israel’s law of return. The Interior Ministry’s Monday decision will affect around 15,000 refugees, Haaretz reported.

The Ukrainian refugees who did not qualify for citizenship were granted a three-month entry visa, which for the earliest arrivals will soon be expiring. According to the Interior Ministry announcement, the visas will be automatically extended without the need for the Ukrainian refugees to visit any government office.

Ukrainians who entered Israel after February 24, when Russia invaded, and began working illegally will not be prosecuted. No action will be taken against their employers either, the ministry said.

Ukrainian nationals who were in Israel illegally when the war broke out will not be deported but won’t be allowed to work.

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked will revisit the issue within 30 days and make another decision on the status of Ukrainians who arrived in Israel both before and after the Russian invasion.

Ukrainian refugees receive their entry papers to Israel, at an emergency shelter in Chisinau, Moldova, March 15, 2022. (Flash90)

The decision was welcomed by Labor MK Ibtisam Mara’ana, chair of the Knesset Committee on Foreign Workers. The lawmaker said that the announcement was “very good news,” and thanked Shaked and her office “for making the right and moral decision.”

The decision came in response to a recent court ruling that allowed two Ukrainian nationals who arrived in the country before the war to work in Israel.

Responding to an appeal filed by the two Ukrainians, Tel Aviv District Court Judge Michal Agmon-Gonen said last week the pair were entitled to work permits from the Population, Immigration and Border Authority.

The judge criticized the Interior Ministry for its policies toward Ukrainian refugees, accusing Israel of violating their rights by not allowing them to work even though they are protected from deportation. She dubbed the policy “deportation in practice,” as the inability to make a living could pressure some into leaving the country.

Agmon-Gonen has ruled in favor of Ukrainian refugees before. In March, as the country was still struggling to define its policy toward Ukrainians escaping their war-stricken country, the judge prevented the deportation of a Ukrainian woman who was staying in Israel illegally and was slated to be deported.

The case led to a clash with Shaked, with Agmon-Gonen accusing the minister of trying to disrupt court proceedings by changing her ruling. Shaked, in turn, denied the allegations and alleged that it was Agmon-Gonen who had acted unethically in the past.

Shaked’s history of clashing with Israeli courts extends to her tenure as justice minister, when she led reforms aimed at limiting the powers of the Supreme Court.

Responding to a 2019 Supreme Court decision to bar an ultranationalist candidate from running during that year’s April election, Shaked labeled the court Israel’s “most powerful political actor,” and said its judges had led a “coup” against both democracy and the public.

Tobias Siegal contributed to this report. 

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