Alex Zernopolsky: "The Area of Immigration and Regulation of Status Reveals a Wretched Reality

Even before he started practicing law, Adv. Alex Zernopolsky accompanied immigrants to Israel in the "klita" (absorption) process. Today, together with his partner and the firm's staff – all of them new immigrants – they embark on difficult and complex battles with the immigration authorities

Avi Yoffe, partnered with Adv. Alex Zernopolsky
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"We are one of the largest law firms in Israel dealing with immigration laws"Credit: Mariana Stebeneva
Avi Yoffe, partnered with Adv. Alex Zernopolsky
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Advocate Alex Zernopolsky is sure that if a random poll were to be taken among immigrants coming to Israel from any country and of any age, most of them would admit that they encountered problems at some point in the immigration and absorption process. He knows at firsthand about dealing with the authorities, which often leaves the new immigrants with not insignificant social scars that they carry with them even many years later.

"It is enough that someone wants to normalize his status in Israel for them to already understand what everyone is talking about," says Adv. Zernopolsky. “What we have here is a wretched situation in which people who only want to normalize their status come up against foot-dragging, bureaucracy, and the many obstacles put in their way by government office clerks.”

"Every detail matters"

Adv. Zernopolsky began helping immigrants to deal with state authorities in his youth, and subsequently decided to study law at the Hebrew University. In 2014, after around a decade of representing the more vulnerable members of society, mainly new immigrants, he decided to merge his firm with that of Adv. Alexei Kovalenko. The two opened an international law firm, which accompanies its clients from the business and private sectors in a wide range of areas of law, with an emphasis on the administrative field, status regulation in Israel, tort law, labor law, family and personal status law, civil-commercial law, real estate law and close accompaniment of real estate transactions in Israel and abroad.

Adv.Alex ZernopolskyCredit: Mariana Stebeneva

"We are one of the largest law firms in Israel dealing with immigration laws. We are also located in the Tel Aviv Government Complex, which is used by various government ministries, including the Ministry of the Interior. This is not by chance," explains Adv. Zernopolsky. “The choice of location was deliberate, and this too sets us apart from other firms. I have been working in the field for more than 16 years, with a unique specialization in immigration. All the lawyers in our firm have significant experience in working with state authorities and, of course, the courts."

He adds that the firm's staff emphasizes professionalism and dedication in handling cases. "Any small thing that is missed in managing the case can lead to a failure in the process with the Ministry of the Interior. This is why it is important to be responsible and meticulous and constantly updated in the rulings of administrative courts and Interior Ministry procedures as soon as they are published. We monitor every piece of news or publication in the field regularly, and immediately update the entire staff of the firm. In addition, once a month we conduct in-depth training at the firm, and in complex cases it is customary to hold a brainstorming session of all the firm's lawyers," notes Adv. Zernopolsky.

The dedication to each case also stems from the firm’s ideology, which, in addition to the staff’s experience as new immigrants, helps them connect with their clients. "This is why we fight and tussle over every case. It is important for us to lead as many legal precedents as possible with wide-ranging implications, in order to facilitate the interaction between the ordinary citizen and the authorities, and in particular the Population and Immigration Authority. This is a highly bureaucratic authority," explains Adv. Zernopolsky, who served in the past as chairman of the Immigration and Foreign Workers Committee in the Bar Association. "We have done all we can to generate changes in the Interior Ministry's attitude towards its applicants. We have initiated legislation on issues related to the Entry into Israel Law, the Law of Return and the Citizenship Law. There has recently been a high court ruling on the Citizenship Law, initiated by us, whereby widows and widowers of children and grandchildren of Jews are recognized as eligible under the Law of Return."

How do you approach a new case that comes to you?

"Complex cases, as mentioned, go through brainstorming by the entire staff of the firm, because no detail should be missed. In cases at the Ministry of the Interior, legal and practical knowledge, creativity, diligence and adherence to the task are important, and only a combination of all of these leads to success. Our clients mainly come from weaker groups, both from a socio-economic point of view and in everything related to their legal status in Israel. Sometimes these are people without status, which also affects them emotionally."

It certainly requires both emotional and mental support.

"We cannot avoid this, it’s part of this field and you need to know how to work with it. It makes it somewhat difficult for us, but these are cases that are not resolved in a short time and people need to be supported. Cases involving regulating the status of married couples may take five years, and common law spouses seven years, in which it is necessary to prove how genuine the relationship is again every year because it is always under question in terms of the Ministry of the Interior."

The law firm of Kovalenko-Zernopolsky receives dozens of cases every monthCredit: Mariana Stebeneva

In order to avoid communication barriers between the firm’s staff and its clients, some employees are Russian-speaking. "If an Israeli man arrives with a spouse of Russian origin, it will be very difficult to prepare the case and take part in all the proceedings in an office without Russian speakers. This is a very critical step," explains Zernopolsky. "If the case is not prepared well and there is no communication it is reasonable to assume that the lawyer has not received all the information and he is liable to fail. There are aspects of mentality here, and you need to know how to identify subtleties."

"We have been exposed to strategic mistakes"

The law firm of Kovalenko-Zernopolsky receives dozens of cases every month, and according to Adv. Zernopolsky, he has been behind more than a thousand successful immigration cases over the years. Most of the cases are complex, and often the firm serves as a last resort for clients, who come to it after failing elsewhere.

"We have already been able to correct the mistakes of others and save the situation for our clients," reveals Zernopolsky, who is involved in each case himself. “We have seen strategic mistakes made by other firms, and work that has not been sufficiently thorough. We delve into all the little details, thinking about how to strengthen a case, what medical or social opinions to attach to it. Unlike many other firms, we are one-stop shop, providing comprehensive services that include producing documents from abroad, notary services within the firm, we also know how to work with foreign consulates in fruitful cooperation to solve problems related to expired passports and the like."

What problems do you face?

"People who want to regulate the status of spouses from abroad; those who want to regulate the status of non-Jewish parents; Israelis who have had children abroad and need to settle their status in Israel through a paternity claim in family court; foreigners who want to normalize their status in Israel for humanitarian reasons, and Jews and their families who want to make aliyah. We know how to represent the client in all the courts, from the Court of Appeals to the Supreme Court.

"We have clients from all over the world"Credit: Mariana Stebeneva

He adds that the firm has a high success rate in status cases, and says that the reason is that in his firm, "we never give up, and we go all the way with the client. The main thing is trust and cooperation. The rest of the work we do. We are all fighters here. It is important to me that the lawyer believes in his case. We have clients from all over the world: from the Philippines, Thailand, the United States, Canada and France, for example, so we have speakers of Russian, English, Ukrainian and other languages in the office."

Does the State of Israel generate a lot of work for immigration lawyers?

"Unlike many countries, we do not consider ourselves a country of migration, and this entire area is regulated by Interior Ministry procedures that are not always in line with the law. We are a country of aliyah, not migration, so the area is very difficult and there will always be work for lawyers here. It is important for anyone who wants to embark on proceedings with the Ministry of the Interior alone to know that this is almost always a recipe for failure. It is important to be represented by an attorney who is familiar with the laws and procedures and practices of the Ministry of the Interior, and will not permit illegitimate behavior by the clerks, which sometimes violates the person’s privacy."

Kovalenko-Zernopolsky Law Firm
Address: 125 Menachem Begin Road, Tel Aviv (Government Complex)
Telephone: 03-5077222

partnered with Adv. Alex Zernopolsky