For many, obtaining Israeli citizenship might seem like an insurmountable task. As you're aware, Israel is a nation-state, and a prevailing notion exists that only individuals of Jewish descent or those born to Jewish mothers (since Jewish nationality is passed maternally) can obtain Israeli citizenship.
Undoubtedly, this remains the simplest, most straightforward, and highly effective pathway. Nevertheless, it's important to note that acquiring an Israeli passport is feasible even for individuals who aren't of Jewish heritage and don't adhere to Judaism.
Pros and Cons of Israeli Citizenship
The benefits of holding Israeli citizenship are plentiful. Foremost, an Israeli passport ranks among the most influential globally, affording visa-free access to 161 nations, encompassing the EU, the UK, and various other advanced countries. Moreover, Israel permits dual citizenship, eliminating the need to renounce your original nationality, particularly for Jewish immigrants. Additionally, it's noteworthy that Israel doesn't extradite its citizens.
Additionally, Israel stands as a well-developed nation with a robust economy and advancements in science, technology, and medicine. Notably, comprehensive medical services, backed by mandatory medical insurance, are accessible to all citizens. Every month, a portion of an Israeli citizen's earnings is allocated to health insurance funds, ensuring cost-free medical care when needed. Furthermore, the option to seek supplementary treatment from private clinics is always available.
Israel boasts a notably elevated standard of income. As of 2022, the average wage stood at approximately $3,300, and this figure is consistently on the rise. Over the past decade, salaries in Israel have surged by 25%, a notable increase surpassing that observed in both the EU and the USA.
Diverse global rankings consistently acknowledge Israel for maintaining a low level of corruption, alongside a steadfast and trustworthy banking system, fostering a conducive environment for business operations. Notably, degrees conferred by Israeli universities hold international recognition, unlocking a multitude of opportunities for those who obtain them.
Photo: Jorge Fernández Salas (Unsplash)
However, perfection eludes even the most promising prospects, and Israeli citizenship comes with its share of drawbacks, some of which can hold significant implications for specific individuals. It's important to note that Israel is engaged in an ongoing state of conflict with its neighbouring nations. Consequently, every Israeli citizen is accustomed to the realities of air raid alerts and heightened security measures.
Consequently, Israeli citizens, including women, are subject to mandatory military service. Additionally, it's worth noting that certain countries, such as Iran or Iraq, do not extend a warm welcome to individuals holding Israeli citizenship.
Certain individuals might find themselves discontented with the elevated cost of living in Israel, along with the considerable influence exerted by religious institutions in daily affairs. These institutions wield substantial authority in crucial matters such as marriage, birth, and death registrations.
Israeli Citizenship by Birth or Descent
The trend of arriving in Israel to give birth within local clinics is steadily gaining popularity. However, it's important to note that this act does not automatically bestow Israeli citizenship upon the child. The crucial factor isn't where the child is born, but rather the citizenship status of the parents. If at least one parent is an Israeli citizen, their children will be granted citizenship automatically as well.
If the parents are unmarried and the mother of the children is not an Israeli citizen, it will be necessary to establish the father's Israeli citizenship. This can be accomplished by providing evidence of your relationship, including joint accounts, insurance documentation, lease agreements, flight records, and photographs. Recently, individuals have also begun using DNA tests as evidence, but these tests must be conducted within the borders of Israel.
Citizenship by Law of Return (Aliyah)
At the foundation of this program lies the 1950 Law of Return of Israel, which provides a guarantee of automatic citizenship for all Jews and their descendants who express a desire to immigrate to the country. This law extends its scope to encompass those who possess or have had a Jewish parent or grandparent. Notably, descendants of a Jewish great-grandmother can obtain Israeli citizenship through a unique provision, which is distinct from the conditions applied to descendants of a Jewish great-grandfather.
Keep in consideration that your religious affiliation also wields significant influence in the process of acquiring an Israeli passport, in accordance with the Law of Return. This law stipulates that only individuals who have not adhered to any religion other than Judaism are deemed as Jews. For example, if you were born to a Jewish mother but subsequently underwent voluntary conversion to Christianity, the Law of Return would not be applicable to you. Conversely, if you converted to Judaism from any other faith, you would be eligible for immigration to Israel and subsequent citizenship (scroll down to learn more).
The Law of Return also applies to spouses, children, and grandchildren of a Jewish immigrant as well as their family members. The Law highlights that children must be born in a marriage that is at least 300 days old. Otherwise, you may have to do a DNA test to submit it to the Israeli court.
Widows and widowers of Jews are also eligible for aliyah unless they have remarried to a person of another nationality.
Jerusalem. Photo: Reiseuhu (Unsplash)
How to Apply for Aliyah
- Reach out to the nearest branch of the Jewish Agency for Israel, a non-profit global organisation headquartered in Jerusalem, with branches spanning 58 countries worldwide. The mission of the Jewish Agency for Israel is to facilitate the immigration of Jews to Israel and support their integration into their ancestral homeland. The agency can offer you tailored guidance concerning immigration to Israel, aid in the documentation gathering process, and even facilitate your travel to Israel by providing a ticket. The choice of utilising the Jewish Agency for Israel, engaging a private legal firm, or undertaking the process independently ultimately rests with you.
- Validating your Jewish lineage can prove to be challenging, often necessitating the submission of numerous documents. These may encompass birth and marriage certificates, extracts from household registers, archival records, personal biographies, data files, as well as certificates detailing instances of evacuation or captivity.
- Reach out to the immigration consul at the Israeli Embassy in your country. The immigration consul assesses each case on a personalised basis, conducting interviews with applicants and occasionally requesting supplementary documentation.
- Once you successfully navigate the consular evaluation and establish your eligibility for immigration, you and your family members will be granted an Aliyah visa, valid for a duration of six months. Within this period, it is imperative to relocate to Israel. The Jewish Agency for Israel will provide assistance in devising a settlement plan tailored to your needs, connecting you with local authorities who can aid in addressing the routine challenges that typically arise during this transition.
- Upon your arrival in Israel, you will receive a Teudat Oleh, a document granting you the ability to secure accommodations, establish bank accounts, and acquire insurance within the country. Subsequently, it's essential to engage with the Ministry of Interior to obtain an internal Israeli ID known as Teudat Zehut. Following this step, you can proceed to apply for an Israeli travel passport, Darkon, which is initially issued for a 12-month period for new immigrants. The subsequent extension of the Darkon hinges on the duration of your stay in Israel. If, after the initial 12 months, it becomes evident that you have spent more time outside Israel, the Darkon will be replaced by a Lesse Passe, a less potent travel passport that grants visa-free access to only 61 countries. However, following a decision made by the Parliament in July 2023, new immigrants are now restricted to Lesse Passe from the start, making Darkon only available after a year of permanent residence.
Israeli Citizenship by Naturalisation
This pathway is applicable to individuals who hold legal residency in Israel but are not of Jewish descent. Israeli citizenship can be conferred by the Minister of Interior if you intend to establish residence in Israel and can fulfil the following criteria:
- Reside in Israel at the time of submitting your citizenship application.
- Demonstrate legal residence in Israel for a minimum of three years within the five years leading up to the application.
- Possess the right and and means to reside in Israel, evidenced by factors such as family or work visas, housing, or property ownership.
- Exhibit proficiency in the Hebrew language.
- Be prepared to renounce all existing citizenships.
Israeli Citizenship by Marriage
Non-Jewish spouses of Israeli citizens have the potential to obtain Israeli citizenship, but this involves a complex and protracted procedure. Essentially, you would need to undergo naturalisation in Israel. The sole exemption from this regulation pertains to individuals married to Jewish individuals who are themselves immigrating to Israel. In this particular circumstance, the spouse can secure Israeli citizenship via the provisions outlined in the Law of Return.
The law maintains a consistent approach towards both married and unmarried relationships. Consequently, regardless of your marital status, you will need to follow the Gradual Process Procedure to Obtain Legal Marriage Status. This process mandates substantiating the authenticity of your marriage or relationship to ensure it is genuine rather than contrived.
The procedure entails assembling an array of documents, securing witness statements, and participating in multiple interviews. A portion of these interviews are conducted individually to ascertain the consistency of responses between spouses. Irrespective of the approach, obtaining Israeli citizenship through marriage demands a minimum span of five years.
Jerusalem. Photo: Sylvain Brison (Unsplash)
Israeli Citizenship by Converting to Judaism (Giyur)
A non-Jewish individual has the option to convert to Judaism and subsequently become eligible for Israeli citizenship. However, it's essential to recognize that this path is arduous and time-consuming. We do not advise pursuing this route solely with the intent of obtaining Israeli citizenship.
Undergoing conversion to Judaism necessitates candidates to engage in a comprehensive training program and successfully complete an examination. This entails demonstrating a deep understanding of fundamental principles of Judaism, its historical background, sacred texts, holidays and their observance, the rules governing the daily life of a devout adherent, along with the ability to recite prayers and blessings. Furthermore, a thorough comprehension of the intricate laws of kashrut (the sacred dietary laws for Jews) is essential, with a paramount emphasis on wholehearted commitment to these practices.
The preparatory course typically lasts about a year, culminating in an examination and participation in the initiation ceremony (giyur). In addition to the giyur certificate, you will be required to furnish reference letters from the rabbi and the Jewish community to the Consulate, substantiating your adherence to the religious lifestyle.
Israeli Citizenship by Decision of the Ministry of Interior
The Israeli Minister of Interior reserves the authority to grant citizenship expeditiously in rare instances. For instance, Israeli citizenship may be extended:
- In recognition of extraordinary services to the State of Israel and the successful fulfilment of tasks vital to the nation.
- In appreciation of significant contributions made to the nation's economy and security.
- To individuals who have served within the ranks of the Israeli armed forces and maintain residence within the country.
- To minors who have resided within Israel for a minimum of three out of the past five years, under the application of Israeli citizenship by their parents.
- To individuals aged 18 to 22, who have lost Israeli citizenship due to the revocation of citizenship of their parents.
In a Nutshell
Emigrating to Israel through Aliyah constitutes the primary avenue toward Israeli citizenship. This program is open to all Jews and their descendants, including grandchildren. For non-Jews, obtaining Israeli citizenship through naturalisation, marriage, or conversion to Judaism is indeed possible, but considerably more complicated.
Cover photo: Tel Aviv, Adam Jang (Unsplash)