U.S. & Israeli Family Based Immigration

U.S. & Israeli Family Based Immigration

A Brief Comparison of Various Aspects of the Family-Based Immigration Process in the U.S. and the Family-Based Immigrant Process in Israel

By Tamar Klarfeld, Esq.

Although the Immigrant Process to the United States and the Immigrant Process to Israel demonstrate similarities, they differ in many respects.

Family Based Immigration to the U.S. comprises several categories whereby a U.S. Citizen (USC) may apply on behalf of his or her Spouse, Unmarried and Married Children under and over the age of 21, Parents, and Siblings; a Legal Permanent Resident (LPR) of the U.S. may apply only on behalf of his or her Spouse and Unmarried Children under and over the age of 21.  Most of the above mentioned categories are restricted to a certain number of visas per year.  Since the number of applications far exceed the number of visas available annually, all of the restricted categories are oversubscribed each year resulting in processing backlogs that delay Family Unification by many years (between several months to eleven or twelve years).

There are an unlimited number of visas available to the Spouses, Parents, and Unmarried Children under the age of 21 of USCs.  This means that U.S. Citizens filing on behalf of their Spouses, Parents, and Unmarried Children under the of 21 can expect to be reunited with their loved ones in the U.S. within approximately six months to a year after applying on their behalf for a Green Card.   This period reflects the amount of time necessary for the technical processing of the case.

The USC can apply for a qualified family member, in the unlimited category noted above, who is outside or (in some cases) inside of the U.S.  In all cases, the actual filing of the Application is handled in the U.S. at a Central Filing Address – interviews are later scheduled but Work Authorization and Travel Papers are generally available shortly after filing and for the duration while a Petition is pending, when the Beneficiary is legally in the United States and has applied for an Adjustment of Status.   For those Petitions filed on behalf of Beneficiaries residing outside of the U.S., a Police Certificate is required from every country in which the Beneficiary resided for more than a year since reaching the age of 16.  In every case a Medical Examination is required of the Beneficiary, by a USCIS or State Department approved Physician, and an Affidavit of Support is required of the Petitioner who will serve as Sponsor for the Beneficiary. Both these latter two requirements are unequivocal in U.S. Immigration procedure, as opposed to Israeli Immigration procedure where they are not explicitly, but rather loosely, required of Family-Based Immigrants to Israel.

A Green Card is issued only Conditionally for two years in the case of the Spouse of a USC or LPR, based on a marriage which took place less than two years earlier.  In order for the Conditional Permanent Resident to obtain the Permanent Immigrant Visa, the couple will later have to file an application, pay a filing fee, attach supporting documentation and attend an interview. Once the Permanent Green Card is issued no further follow-up with the USCIS is required of the Legal Permanent Resident. If the USC Petitioning Spouse has been married to the Intending Immigrant for more than 2 years when Legal Permanent Residency is granted there is no further follow-up and the Legal Permanent Residency is not restricted.

Family-Based Immigration to Israel is generally available to Jews under the Law of Return, and to non-Jews in a very limited number of circumstances. Intending Immigrants to Israel on the basis of Interfaith Marriage or Cohabiting Partnership (heterosexual or same-sex) with an Israeli Citizen will find that the most expedient means of obtaining resident status in Israel for Married or Unmarried Co-Habiting Couples is to Apply in Person at the office of the Ministry of Interior located where the Israeli Citizen resides. Israeli Citizens may apply for Conditional Residency Status on behalf of their Co-Habiting Partners or Spouses if they can demonstrate a common household and permanent residence in Israel. There is no telling how long a process will take when filing on behalf of someone outside of Israel (if a process gets off the ground at all – especially if the couple is not married).

When requesting a change of status from inside of Israel, it is never a good idea to leave the country before status has actually been established, no matter how painful, as there is a very good chance that reentry will be barred or a request of processing to extend or adjust status will become moot. Also, there is great disparity in the processing between one office of the Ministry of Interior and another. Some offices will schedule an interview for opening a file and a separate interview for a Hearing prior to obtaining a status – some will do both at the same time. It can take several months to get an Interview at the Ministry of Interior and in many, if not most, cases the intending immigrant will be out of status for many months before the case is processed.  Not every office will extend or revive a lapsed visitor visa and under such circumstances the intending immigrant may find himself or herself in Removal Proceedings before the case is actually processed – especially in cases where attempting to initiate the immigration process when the Entry Permit has already long expired. To the Ministry’s credit there has been some improvement on this issue over the past few years, and generally a pending application or a pending interview will preclude expedited removal/deportation proceedings and/or the need for a rushed petition to the Administrative Court for a Stay of Execution.

Although the Israeli Ministry of Interior requires only a Health Statement signed by the intending immigrant (as opposed to the expensive Medical Examination required by USCIS) and does not require a guarantor of specified means who will indemnify the government should the immigrant become a public burden, the Israeli Immigration process has other, unique and sometimes insurmountable, requirements.

Official Records required of the Intending Immigrant to Israel (Birth, Marriage, Divorce and Police Certificates – among others) must be Originals, Certified with an Apostille.  Official Records from countries who are not Parties to the Hague Convention are far more complicated to obtain.  Each record/document must first be Certified by the Public Office issuing the record, then by the Foreign Ministry of the same country, and then by the Israeli Consulate stationed in that country.  If there is no Israeli Consulate in the country issuing the Official Record then the Official Record which has been twice Certified (by the issuing authority and by the Foreign Ministry) must then be certified by the Israeli Consulate appointed by the Israel Foreign Ministry to Certify records that have been certified by the specific Foreign Government where no Israeli consular services are available. The Consulate will likely be in a neighboring country but could be on a different continent.

To further complicate matters, among the substantive documents required of the intending immigrant [to Israel] is a Bachelor Certificate or No Impediment to Marriage Certificate.  Although, such records are readily available in Israel, they do not necessarily exist in other countries (for example in the U.S.). There is no fixed regulation as to how to fulfill this requirement which leaves the intending immigrant to Israel in the impossible situation of scrambling to get any official office in the U.S. to generate some kind of record showing that no marriage has been registered in the name of the Applicant. This “Official Document” must then be certified by an Apostille.  Some Israeli Ministry of Interior offices will accept an Affidavit Certified by the U.S. Consulate in Israel, whereby the affiant declares that he/she is not married and has never been married – or has not remarried since their divorce many years ago.  The need for this form of bootstrapping can be particularly vexing since the encumbering process (of thereafter obtaining an Apostille on the Affidavit) could be far more efficiently handled by simply making the sworn declaration before the Ministry of Interior directly or even before a Notary Public inside of Israel.

If and when Temporary Conditional Residence is bestowed upon the intending immigrant to Israel, the case will remain open and closely scrutinized practically indefinitely. Initially a temporary working visa (B1) is accorded to the intending relationship immigrant. If the couple is married, an A5 Temporary Resident Visa will be issued at the end of six months, renewable annually for five years. If the couple is not legally married the B1 will be extended for six more months at which time the intending relationship-based immigrant will be accorded an A5 visa renewable annually for seven years. However, at the time of renewal of each visa, both partners in the relationship are required to appear for an Interview/Hearing at the Ministry of Interior and must convince the Ministry of their continued Bona Fide relationship. The Ministry of Interior will cancel the status of the Temporary Resident, and demand immediate departure from Israel, at any time that it suspects that the relationship has been terminated. Exceptions are made only if approved for Humanitarian Reasons.

After 5 or 7 years, respectively, the Israeli Temporary Resident may apply for Citizenship. It is recommended that the Israeli Temporary Resident obtain Citizenship as soon as possible after qualifying, since like the Green Card Holder, the Temporary Resident always runs the risk that by some circumstance of law, or failure to maintain residency on his part, this status might be revoked at any time.

Forms, Fees and similar documentation are required by both countries, but, as noted above the authentication of documents varies between the countries.  Documentation submitted to the USCIS must be in English of include a certified translation; documentation submitted for the local U.S. Consulate can be also be in the local language.  Documentation submitted to the Israel Ministry of Interior can be in Hebrew, Arabic or English.  Documents in other languages must include a notarized translation into Hebrew.

This is by no means a comprehensive comparison between the family-based immigration processes in the U.S. and Israel, but merely a general overview in comparison of various aspects of these processes.


[1] One might argue that this is a ludicrous procedure made even more ridiculous when taking into consideration that the Ministry of Interior’s own records are less than accurate, to say the least. Although every marriage taking place in Israel is automatically registered with the Ministry of Interior, there is no so such requirement of Citizens or Residents who marry outside of Israel. Since the Religious Courts have absolute jurisdictions over Marriage and Divorce in Israel, there is no legal provision for civil marriage inside of the country and no provision for Interfaith Marriage.  In these circumstances the Religious Courts gain absolute jurisdiction over determining who is a Jew (or Christian or Muslim etc.), in Israel, for marriage and divorce purposes. As a result, the reported number of Israeli Citizens and Residents who are precluded from marrying inside the country is numbered at approximately 400,000 (in a country with a total population of approximately 8,000,000) – a subject which, in of itself, is worthy of discussion.  Those ineligible to marry in Israel, or those who do not choose to marry in a religious ceremony, must do so outside of the Israel.  Many choose not to register their marriage with the Ministry of Interior thereafter, compromising the accuracy of those same Ministry’s records that serve as the model for the Ministry’s demand from intending immigrants. Over the years these restrictions on the basic human right of marriage has become a particularly controversial issue in Israeli Politics and the subject of several pieces of proposed legislation in recent years.  Current proposed legislation establishes a registry for Co-Habiting relationships which is intended to serve as an alternative to Marriage under (very) limited circumstances, conferring legal rights equal to those of the parties’ married compatriots. The proposed legislation fails to contemplate what legal status will be accorded these relationships outside of Israel – whether they will be equally accepted as marriage (when not recognized as a marriage inside of Israel), whether a foreign court can gain jurisdiction for divorce or dissolution of such a relationship, etc. Furthermore, it is unclear whether Derivative U.S. Immigration and/or Visa benefits will be conferred upon the accompany partners in these types of relationships.

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