Children of Naturalized Israelis to Be Given Legal Status

For the past two years, Michaela Scriano, 10, has been living with friends of her mother's in Kishinev, Moldova. She is currently living with an 18-year-old high school student. Michaela's mother, Tamara Shabtai, 30, came to Israel as a foreign worker and married an Israeli, but the Interior Ministry will not permit her daughter to come to Israel.

The grandmother who used to care for Michaela died two years ago, and Shabtai does not stop worrying about her daughter.

"Israeli parents don't part from their children for even a day. Do you think we're not human?" she asks.

Interior Ministry officials say their refusal to issue Scriano a visa is based on the fact that she and her mother had not been living together for two years prior to Shabtai's marriage. The reason for that, Shabtai explains, is that she came to Israel in order to work.

"I didn't come here on vacation," she said. "My father died seven years ago. My mother had diabetes. The father of my daughter disappeared, and doesn't pay child support. I had to come and work."

Shabtai chose Israel, she says, because it was the only place she could be sure she wouldn't be sold into prostitution. Last month Shabtai's attorney, Nicole Maor of the Israel Religious Action Center, sent a final warning letter to the Interior Ministry before filing a lawsuit.

This week, however, the ministry had good news for the family. Interior Minister Roni Bar-On decided to permit the young children of non-Jews married to Israeli citizens to receive the same immigration status as the immigrant parent.

"In light of the changes introduced by the interior minister into the guidelines for accompanying minors, the request will be reexamined in accordance with the less stringent criteria," ministry spokeswoman Sabine Haddad said.

Scriano definitely meets the new criteria, which are being published here for the first time, and there is a good chance she will be living in Israel with her mother within weeks.

Shabtai and hundreds of other parents whose children are barred from living in Israel face the same problem. In many cases, the children are being raised by relatives abroad, while in other cases the children remain in Israel with no legal status, without health insurance or National Insurance Institute coverage.

The problem cases fall into two groups:

b Previous children of a non-Jew who marries an Israeli citizen. * Previous children of the spouse of an immigrant eligible for Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return

Until now, the policy has been not to extend legal status to "accompanying children" who were not living with the parent in the two years before the request was filed. That policy automatically ruled out most of the children of foreign workers. In the case of children under 10 years old, the director of the ministry's Population Registry could permit their entry, but in practice this often required court intervention.

A few months ago, Bar-On decided to reevaluate the policy on accompanying children, in part in the wake of a "citizenship campaign" that ended last August. Under the campaign, children who were under age 14 when they arrived and who have lived here for at least six years were granted legal status, along with their families. Then, immigrant advocates protested the fact that the state was naturalizing the families of foreign workers but not permitting the children of Israelis to enter the country legally.

Last week, Bar-On decided that an accompanying child through age 15 will be given the same status as his or her parent. The parents of children aged 15-18 will still be required to prove they lived with the children in the two years prior to the application, or had a very good excuse for not doing so.