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Thousands of non-Jewish common-law spouses of Israelis will have to live three years in Israel before being eligible for temporary residency and health and social insurance, according to tough new Interior Ministry regulations.

The Association of Civil Rights in Israel estimates that thousands of people, most of them common-law spouses, are waiting to be naturalized.

Non-Jewish people who marry Israelis receive temporary residency six months after their marriage and are naturalized four years later.

Common-law spouses, however, including same-sex partners, have until now had to wait a year for temporary residency and six years for permanent residency. According to new regulations, however, they will have to wait three years before receiving temporary residency. Temporary residency is important for many reasons, not least among them the entitlement to social rights.

The partner of an Israeli woman told Haaretz recently that he could only get jobs in cleaning, because of his unclear status. He was not eligible for health insurance even a year and a half after fathering an Israeli child.

ACRI Attorney Oded Feller said that in the past many non-Jewish spouses were naturalized by proxy marriages in Paraguay. But since Israel decided not to recognize such marriages, the way to naturalization lay in common-law marriage.

This is why the Interior Ministry is fighting against them, says Feller, who is demanding to equalize the naturalization process of common-law and conventionally married couples. MK Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz) yesterday said the ministry was harassing non-Jewish spouses "to make life here as difficult as possible for them."