Tatiana and Vasily Skripinov arrived in Israel from Belarus more than a year ago with their young daughters, Sofia and Hannah. Vasily Skripinov had a Jewish grandfather, therefore entitling him to immigrate to Israel and to receive Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return, which entitles Jews and descendants of Jews and their families to immigrate. His brother immigrated to Israel nine years ago and settled in Eilat.
Tatiana and Vasily Skripinov had their own dream of immigrating to Israel and raising their daughters in the country. They filed an initial request to immigrate at the Israeli embassy in Minsk, the capital of Belarus capital, in 2014, but the request was not granted. Many months passed, and it was suggested that they arrive in Israel as tourists and then submit a request for a change of status to immigrants. When they arrived in Israel, they never expected that a year later, they would still not have new immigrant status, or any other change in status and would be in the country illegally.
The denial is the result of Vasily's criminal past in Belarus. Vasily's criminal record was for theft more than 12 years prior and for property crimes and drug possession for personal consumption 17 years before. In light of the length of time that has passed since his criminal convictions and the fact that he had no further run-ins with the law, the police in his native country recommended that he submit personal references, following which they expunged his criminal record. He had also been given a certificate of good standing stating that he has no criminal record, since it had been expunged.
The Law of Return authorizes the interior minister to deny Israeli citizenship to a prospective immigrant “with a criminal past who is liable to endanger the public peace.” The law does not specify the crimes for which Israel could deny citizenship, but the Supreme Court has ruled that they must be serious offenses such as murder and rape. In 2016, the court ruled further that the criminal conviction must be of a nature that would pose a threat to the public in the future and not just a matter of past actions.
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Asked for a response for this article, the Interior Ministry said that, since the Skripinovs’ case involves their possible denial of citizenship over the exception provided in the Law of Return, the case involves careful investigation. The ministry added that “an examination of the details provided to us by authorized parties shows an entirely different picture.” The ministry also noted that the family should have anticipated that it would take time to change their status in Israel after they arrived as tourists.
"We are shocked by this whole story," Tatiana said in tears. "My husband's problems with the law were so long ago, he's a father now, he's been working for years now. We saved money to raise our daughters and give them a future in Israel. In a few months we'll run out of all the money we saved and I do not know what to do. We are tired and disappointed. "
Attorney Yadin Elam, who is representing the couple on behalf of the non-profit group Global Aliyah, said: "In practice, we see that anyone who has a criminal record, as remote and negligible as it may be, even if it is a minor crime that has expired and been erased as in the case of Mr. Skripinov, who poses no danger to public safety, is harassed for years by the Interior Ministry, which refuses to approve his aliyah requests, in violation of the law and rulings. "
The family submitted their request for a change of status in May 2017. About six months later, in November 2017, the Population and Immigration Authority informed them that because of Vasily's criminal files, the request would be forwarded to the for discussion Authority's headquarters. The Authority did not extend the family's tourist visas, so that since the end of last year they have been in Israel without status - without a work permit, the ability to open a bank account, social benefits or medical insurance. In addition, they fear that they will be arrested for illegal residence.
Following an appeal by Attorney Elam to the Population and Immigration Authority, Vasily was summoned to a meeting at the Ashkelon Population Authority branch in February 2018. He was requested for the first time then to submit the original verdicts for his conviction, translated into Hebrew. He submitted them in March, and the Authority said that he would receive an answer within a month, but none arrived. In mid-June, about four months after the verdicts had been submitted, the Authority informed Attorney Elam that the case had been transferred to Interior Minister Arye Dery.
Attorney Elam added: "The right to return has been recognized as a basic right, and the Interior Minister has the power to revoke only in very limited cases. The Interior Ministry adds insult to injury in this case - it is not enough that the couple submitted their application for immigration, together with all the required documents, more than a year ago and has been waiting since then for the request to be approved, but, in addition, for most of that period they have had no valid visas, as if they're illegal residents in Israel.