Interior Ministry to Form Tribunal for Applicants Denied Permanent Residency

The Interior Ministry will form a tribunal presided over by a judge to hear petitions by applicants who have been denied permanent residency status, an official said yesterday.

The tribunal will entirely reform the process by which applicants' requests are reviewed, as it will act as an intermediary between applicants, ministry officials and the courts, Interior Ministry Director-General Aryeh Bar said.

Speaking at the Knesset, Bar said it was the first step toward forming a greater "tribunal on immigration affairs," an institution that exists in many European countries.

Each year, some 4,000 petitions are lodged with courts against the Population Registrar's review process. About one in three petitions filed per year relate to the Interior Ministry's decision making in this regard.

"More than once, this court has said it cannot be turned into the reception desk for the Population Registrar," Judge Boaz Okon wrote in a ruling regarding the courts' process. "Nor should the court or the state prosecution be turned into a place where applications receive attention and are settled."

Bar revealed the ministry's plan yesterday at a joint meeting between the Knesset Committee on Foreign Workers and the subcommittee on the prevention of trafficking in women. During the meeting, lawmakers debated difficulties in granting residency permits to victims of the sex trade.

According to the ministry's plan, the tribunal will consist of two legal officials appointed by the Interior Ministry and a judge acting as a public representative.

"The aim is to prevent cases from piling up," Interior Ministry Spokesman Sabine Hadad said. "Most petitions to the courts are made by people who did not receive responses to their applications or did not file their documents properly. These issues can be solved by a tribunal."

Attorney General Menachem Mazuz is said to be advising the ministry on how to establish the tribunals. "The Population Registrar is pushing ahead with forming the tribunal immediately after its guidelines are set," she said.

The Association of Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), however, strongly objects to the creation of the planned tribunal, saying it will further impede the already cumbersome application process.

ACRI Attorney, Oded Feller, said the initiative to form the committee is the first time the ministry has admitted it "uses the courts as a 'fix all' for its problems."

"The solution should be increasing the number of officials and lawyers and not creating tribunals," Feller said. He claimed that instead of streamlining the process, it would create a new set of barriers for those awaiting ministry decisions. "The ministry should not be allowed to form another tribunal, adding another stop on the 'Via Delarosa' that applicants are required to go through," he said.

Earlier this month, a Jerusalem District Court ruled that the Population Registrar must for the first time divulge the examination process by which it grants Israeli citizenship and residency status to applicants.

Judge Yudit Tzur said the ministry had routinely and intentionally withheld information from the public and ordered the Interior Ministry's department to post a "complete list of rules and procedures" on its Web site within 30 days..