A new online system for entry permits into Israel promises to relieve the bureaucratic headaches and heartaches of families wishing to reunite with overseas parents, grandparents and other relatives from whom they have been separated since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
While vaccinated or recovered first-degree relatives of Israelis who are not citizens have officially been allowed to enter the country since April, the actual process of obtaining entry permits has been circuitous and difficult – and in some cases traumatic.
There have been regular complaints about a lack of response from the Israeli embassies and consulates around the world charged with processing paperwork submitted via email.
In the United States, responses and processes varied wildly among the various consulates. Some issued permits quickly and promptly, others remained completely unresponsive, causing travelers to miss flights after having spent thousands of dollars on tickets and travel insurance.
In the face of the consulates’ failures, many families took an alternative route of having their Israeli relatives apply for the permits directly from local offices of the Interior Ministry. This route also presented challenges, though, with applicants similarly encountering confusing and conflicting messages regarding the procedures, inconsistent hours and reportedly hostile behavior from some clerks in different offices.
When Yair Lapid assumed control of the Foreign Ministry after the inauguration of the country’s new coalition government last month, he and his staff were bombarded with complaints regarding the unwieldy email system, and a situation room was set up to address the issue.
The result is a new online form that went live on Tuesday.
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Deputy Director General for Consular Affairs Eyal Siso said he was “cautiously optimistic” that the system would quickly improve the situation. “We are doing our best,” he said. “I know it will be better; it’s a question of how much better, how quickly.”
Siso explained that the forms would be instantly seen both by local embassies and consulates, along with ministry officials in Jerusalem, and the work of processing the thousands of applications each day could be shared proportionally, facilitating faster responses.
Previously, some embassies and consulates were disproportionately overwhelmed with applications and couldn’t handle the load.
The online form relates to entry permit applications for the following categories: foreign citizens who have a first-degree family member currently in Israel who is a citizen or permanent resident of the country; travelers with a parent who is an Israeli citizen; a foreign citizen married to an Israeli citizen or permanent resident; a foreign parent of a minor Israeli child, a lone soldier or a national service volunteer or one of their first-degree relatives; students and yeshiva students; and applicants who want to travel to Israel to attend a funeral.
Applicants are being instructed to submit the online form four weeks before their flight date. The ministry states on the form that processing requests will take up to 20 business days.
Siso said that while the consulates and embassies would still respond to requests for entry permits submitted via email, he “strongly” recommended that they be resubmitted using the online form.
He added that applicants holding tickets to fly to Israel in less than four weeks could still apply for permits using the form.
He noted that the new system at the Foreign Ministry would not affect the ability of Israelis to apply for permits for their relatives through the Interior Ministry.
Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Idan Roll said in a statement that ''The centralized situation room we set up and the digital access will reduce wait times and make it easier for Foreign Ministry employees, embassies and consulates around the world to provide service."