Religion-Based Visa: Procedure, MOI and Disputes

Among the Visas awarded to non-citizens staying in Israel, there is one unique visa, issued to religious clergy members, employed at well-known religious institutes. Providing a clergyman with an Entry visa to Israel raises many questions and is of a somewhat problematic nature. We will look into the procedures and theoretical and practical issues involved in that process, discuss its legal history, and focus on several cases brought before the Israeli court of law.

Relevant Laws

Religious institution wishing to employ religious clergymen can apply for an A-3 visa, which is issued specifically to such clergymen. That visa is awarded in accordance with the Entry to Israel Law and Article 6(C) of its regulations, which states:

…” Religious clergyman, wishing to stay in Israel within his flock and at the invitation of a religious institution, that institution can apply on clergyman’s behalf for a Visa and temporary A-3 residence permit. At the receipt of these, the religious institute shall immediately notify the Ministry of Interior about entry of the applicant into Israel and shall be responsible for applicant’s departure from the country once his mission is completed.” Implementation of the regulations involved is done in accordance with regulation number 5.9.0001, regulating entry visa, temporary residence permit, and extending temporary residence permits for religious clergyman.

Submission of Application

Religious clergyman A-3 Visa applications shall be submitted, in accordance with rulings and requirements, hereby specified, to the relevant Ministry of Interior (“MOI”) office near the location of the institute in which the clergyman will be fulfilling his/her duties. The main requirements, when applying for that type of visa, are:

  1. Statement – made by the religious institute involved, specifying the future tasks and mission of the clergyman, which will be limited to religious issues only, and declaring that immediately after completion of his/her mission, the invited person will leave Israel.
  2. Recommendation – issued by the Religious Affairs department, confirming that:

                        The applicant’s employment is of religious nature;

                        He/she shall be employed by a well-known religious institute;

  1. Presence of the religious institute representative at the submission of the application is mandatory.
  2. Accompanying documents.

 

In general, all these procedures are valid for applicants invited by a well-known religious institute, while staying outside Israel. However, if the applicant is already in Israel, holding a different type of Visa, there is the option of changing the present Visa into A-3 Entry Visa. Such requests are highly irregular, and shall be submitted to MOI head office.

 

Family members A-4 Visas

Clergymen can be accompanied by their families, as in the cases of student visas and high-skilled workers Visas. The A-4 Visas will be granted to the family members in parallel, and for the same time period, as the principle A-3 visa.

Authority

Requests for A-3 visas are submitted to the relevant MOI office closest to the religious institution’s physical location. It will be reviewed, and approved or refused. However, when dealing with requests to change visa type (when applicant is already in Israel), the request will be submitted to the relevant local MOI office, and will also be forwarded to the MOI main office in Jerusalem. If requests are refused, and there is a basis for submitting an appeal for overturning MOI decision, an appeal can be submitted at the administrative affairs’ court of law.

The Court will act against, or dispute MOI decisions, only under special circumstances. In general, legal authorities avoid doing it, unless if necessary or forced upon them. This can be seen in High-Court decision # 04/584, Organization for Jesus Dominus Church vs. Israeli Ministry of religious affairs (unpublished, dated March 6th, 2006):

“…Range of consideration awarded to the Minister of Internal Affairs by the legislator, concerning permits for staying and residing in Israel, is of highly wide scope. Therefore, it is generalized that court shall not dispute or move to overrule the decisions of the Minister, unless there are special reasons for doing so…”

 

And as reflected in court ruling in Court-appeal # 10-11-55896, Sapion vs. MOI:

“…Range of consideration awarded to the defendant on the issue of providing residence visas to Israel is of the widest scope. Court does not intend replacing him nor dispute his judgment. Court is authorized to interfere and turnover the decisions of MOI only upon the existence of special circumstances, justifying such action …”

Court examines each case separately, and if the decision of the MOI is consistent with the procedures, it shall not be revoked. Furthermore, in a different case, court did not overturn the MOI’s decision to refuse Visa, due to evidence of settling in Israel and providing false information concerning applicant’s activities in Israel – Court appeal # 10-07-18279 Barnabas Church Humanitarian Organization et al vs. Ministry of Interior affairs:

“…approached the Department Manager to MOI Entry Visas Department, recommending that the applicant will be issued B-2 multiple entries Visa for one year, (attachment 12 to the application). In spite of the recommendation, the request was refused, due to “de-facto settling in Israel.”

And yet, in a different case, an appeal, arguing that irrelevant considerations, such as fear of missionary activity should not influence the MOI’s decision, and if this was the case then the application should be reconsidered, was accepted in Court – Court Appeal # 10-11-5716 Henson vs. MOI: “…Penalties Law 1977 forbids provision and receipt of benefits in exchange for adapting another religion (Articles 174-174a), and religious transformation of a minor (article 368). As is. It appears that MOI did not even try to check what kind of “missionary activity” the applicants were allegedly supposed to engage in, and whether it’s legitimate or not…”

These cases show that court interventions are moderate and relate to each case separately. While the organization responsible for decisions concerning Visa applications is solely the MOI, should it be proven that its decision does not reflect the regulations and procedure, then the Court will interfere and reinstate justice.

Summary and Conclusions

The procedure of issuing A-3 Visa to religious clergymen relies on strict regulations and laws. Most of the cases are indeed handled in complete accordance with it. Religious Visas are efficiently and properly taken care of, and in cases of refusal, it must be accompanied by proper justified reasons and explanations, which will enable the applicant to check the MOI’s manner of dealing with his/her request, or apply for revision, or ask for legal intervention.

In our opinion, most of the cases are indeed handled in compliance with procedure and regulations, and refusals are based on concrete justified reasons, such as fraud, misrepresentation or applicant’s settling in Israel. Indeed, it is just and required that the Court interferes to correct refusals when they do not reflect the spirit of the law or are wrong.

 

All said and explained in this article does not constitute a legal opinion and does not replace legal advice. Responsibility for using the wordings and opinions conveyed in this article relies solely and entirely on the reader.

This article was written by Dotan Cohen Law Offices, working in the field of immigration law in the United States, Canada and Australia.

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