Eight questions have separated Tangiz, a 58-year-old Israeli man, and his Georgian wife, Elena, 52.
They have known each other for 20 years, and married in 2015. Each had spent time in prison and sought to start a new life together. A year ago, when Elena requested to move to Israel to live with her husband, she couldn’t have imagined that her life’s dream would be shattered – over a month in prison in Israel and deportation to Georgia.
The Israeli Immigration Authority said the reason for Elena's deportation last month was that her responses in an interview with the Population and Immigration Authority gave a “negative impression of the authenticity of the relationship.”
Elena and Tangiz gave identical responses to 62 of 70 questions they were asked, including such details as the side of the bed each slept on. The eight they answered differently are what led to Elena’s deportation.
“My wife calls me every day crying,” Tangiz told Haaretz. “I’m lost without her. What didn’t I show them? Hundreds of photos of us together, we did everything together. I moved to Israel because I‘m Jewish and I wanted to live in the country I always dreamed of. I can’t believe they’d take my wife away from meWhy? What did I do wrong?”
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Haaretz has received a copy of the minutes of the interviews, including the answers to the questions that disqualified the couple’s request for Elena to live in Israel. They asked Elena if she sent money to relatives abroad. No, she did not, she answered; she has no money.
“Maybe she sent money, I don’t know,” was Tangiz’s answer. She then answered that she had in fact sent $100 to her nephews on two occasions. The second question was how the couple kept in touch when Elena was abroad and Tangiz was in Israel.
“We would speak every day several times on Skype,” Tangiz said. And Elena said that people from Israel who came to Georgia would bring her letters and packages.
The third question was whether they had friends in common. Elena mentioned the name of one of five friends of her husband. She said her husband has many friends but she doesn’t like to be with them.
The fourth question was what hours and days Elena worked. Tangiz said she worked five days a week from 7 AM to 4 PM and sometimes on Friday. Elena said she didn't work on Fridays.
The fifth problematic response was to a question about their criminal records. Tangiz said he had a record, Elena said he did not. When she was asked again, she said he had been accused of theft but she knew no more about it. Another troublesome question had to do with Tangiz’s income. He said he received disability benefits from the National Insurance Institute. She said he received a pension as a retiree.
Conflicting responses were also registered for a question about how much Elena earned at her job. He said she made 4,000 to 5,000 shekels ($1,111–1,386), and she said 6,500 shekels.
The couple has been waiting for six weeks for their appeal to be heard, filed by attorney Michal Pomerantz of the Justice Ministry’s legal assistance bureau. Pomerantz wrote that the gaps in the couple’s answers were minor.
“It seems that any couple living together for decades would not have passed the distorted fine points that test the sincerity of the relationship,” the appeal says.
“The expectation of a couple who is neither young nor healthy to remember small and marginal details shows that the very test of the sincerity of the relationship was carried out in an unreasonable and unfair manner.”
She cited the differences in description of Tangiz’s income, the authority’s claim that Elena answered that Tangiz received a pension, when in fact he is on disability. But what Elena actually said was that he received state assistance. With regard to the way they kept in touch, Pomerantz explained that each kept in touch in a different way.
Both Elena and Tangiz answered their questions in depth, Pomerantz wrote. The contradictions, she said, were the authority’s.
The authority replied that under the procedure for granting residency status to a person married to an Israeli citizen, “the right of the Israeli citizen to family life is not absolute and the foreign citizen is not automatically entitled to citizenship.”
According to the state comptroller, every year some 5,200 new applications are filed by Israelis seeking residency status for non-Israeli partners. As of 2016, there were more than 33,000 foreigners undergoing the process of seeking a residency permit.
Tangiz, a native of Georgia, is a former doctor who worked in the profession for years in the United States and Israel. He immigrated to Israel at 39 and went to work at Sheba Hospital, Tel Hashomer. He was later fired and lost his license due to drug addiction, then returned to Georgia, where he met Elena, who had been in prison for political activity against the state. After her 2012 release, they were married in 2015.
“Elena was always my great love. Now finally I could live with her, before they separated us,” Tangiz said.
After they were married Tangiz returned to Israel, but Elena stayed in Georgia to care for Tangiz's sick mother. In Israel, Tangiz was unable to support himself and remained homeless for a long time. He spent time in jail for stealing food, and the welfare authorities defined him as a person “living on the street who cannot be rehabilitated.”
He has had numerous medical problems and has had surgery twice in the past year. Tangiz was hospitalized recently for six months and the National Insurance Institute determined he was 100 percent disabled. He has not been able to work due to his poor health.
In 2017, Elena arrived in Israel. Tangiz’s situation immediately improved and he moved into a small apartment in south Tel Aviv.
“With the arrival of his wife in Israel,” his parole officer wrote in an official evaluation," Tangiz made efforts to stabilizeand he began to take responsibility for his situation. We believe that his wife is significant to his rehabilitation and we see great importance in their continuing to live together in Israel.”
But the couple encountered a series of bureaucratic snags since Elena’s arrival in Israel in February 2017. Numerous documents had to be submitted, and they all had to be officially verified internationally, which took time and money that the couple did not have.
By November 2017, they believed that they had collected all the necessary documents which they submitted to the Population Authority bureau in Tel Aviv. The authority did not inform them that anything needed to be corrected or was missing.
In the months that followed they tried repeatedly to find out what was happening with their applications. Only in November was Tangiz told that their request had been rejected because documents were missing. The authority also acknowledged that a letter it had sent to them had not been delivered.
Tangiz and Elena began working on obtaining the missing documents, but that same month, Elena was arrested and jailed at Givon Prison for more than a month for working without a permit. The couple was given an extension to produce the necessary documents and instructed to appear for interviews to determine whether their relationship was sincere, which the authority decided was not the case.
The paper they were missing was the one documenting Elena’s release from prison in Georgia. They had thought erroneously that a document saying Elena had completed her prison term would be sufficient.
The Population Authority responded: “The applicant, Ms. Elena, has been in Israel since February 2017 and since August she has resided here illegally, without a visa. The above was arrested in possession of false documents.
Only after her arrest did the applicant submit a request for family unification and when she was asked to submit the required documents she did not do so for a long time. When she submitted the rest of the documents, her application had been processed and it was decided to turn it down due to contradictions in the interview. We note that the case was discussed in six appeals and all of them were rejected."
In response to Haaretz’s query about the criteria for the interview, the authority said that all requests where one party in a couple is a foreigner include an interview to “determine whether they maintain a shared life. For this purpose, every year before the visa is extended during the process, the couple is interviewed. That is the case for every application for residency status" involving a couple.