Overseas participants in study and travel programs in Israel will from now on automatically be able to extend their stay in the country by an extra six months in order to legally work while exploring the possibility of immigration.
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Under new regulations signed this week by recently-appointed Interior Minister Arye Dery, participants will no longer be asked to prove their Jewish lineage should they wish to remain in the country after they have completed these programs.
The key beneficiaries of the new regulations will be participants in Taglit-Birthright’s free 10-day trips to Israel as well as participants in hundreds of government-subsidized educational, volunteer and internship programs sponsored by Masa.
Last month, the Ministerial Committee for Legislation was set to decide on whether to push forward a bill submitted by Knesset Member Nachman Shai from the Zionist Union party that would have changed the existing law, following scores of complaints over the years by Birthright and Masa participants whose visa requests had been denied or held up because they were unable to provide sufficient proof of their Jewish roots. The committee decided that rather than bring the bill up for a vote in the Knesset, it would ask the new interior minister to sign new regulations.
“This is a major breakthrough,” Shai told Haaretz. “For years we have been bringing young Jews from abroad to Israel hoping they will connect to the country, and when they do, we make it difficult for them to stay. These new regulations will give them an opportunity to stay in Israel for a trial period and test things out before moving here.”
Shai had been lobbying the government for almost two years to change existing legislation. Partnering with him in this effort was ITIM, an organization that helps new immigrants navigate Israel’s religious bureaucracy.
Responding the new regulations, ITIM founder and executive director Seth Farber said he was “gratified.”
“The breathing room that the new protocols provide will enable those students and young people who wish to stay in Israel and perhaps immigrate to make their way through the Israeli bureaucracy without feeling threatened,” said Farber. “In addition, the extra time that they can stay here will augment and concretize the positive experiences these students have had during their stays here.”