For Foreigners in Common-law Marriages With Israelis, Life May Become More Expensive

The interior minister proposes quadrupling the fee foreign nationals not legally married to Israelis must pay to apply for residency.

Olivier Fitoussi

Interior Minister Silvan Shalom plans to propose a new law on Monday that would quadruple the fee – from 715 shekels ($182) to 2,850 shekels – for foreign nationals applying for Israeli residency on the basis of their common-law marriage to Israelis.

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) objected to the bill, saying it discriminates against common-law and same-sex spouses, saddling them with additional hardships beyond those the state already piles on them.

In 2002 the state set a fee of 1,625 shekels for foreign nationals applying for legal residency on the basis of their marriage to an Israeli citizen, and 2,850 shekels for foreigners seeking such status on the strength of their marriage to a permanent Israeli resident. Foreign nationals in a common-law marriage with an Israeli have been paying only 715 shekels to apply for residency, even though the bureaucratic process involved takes seven to nine years, compared to about five years for foreigners married to Israelis.

In the background material attached to the bill, Shalom contended that foreigners in common-law marriages with Israelis should pay no less than foreigners married to Israeli citizens (2,850 shekels), because of the amount of work they cause the Interior Ministry.   

"It should be noted," Shalom wrote, "that while in the past, most of the requests by foreign nationals for status came on the strength of their marriage to an Israeli citizen or marriage to a permanent resident in recent years most of the requests for legal status on the basis of a spousal relationship with an Israeli comes from foreign nationals in a spousal relationship without an Israeli marriage. In view of the increasing number of these requests, which account for a substantial part of the work of the departments dealing with the granting of legal status, setting a [new] fee for these requests is crucial."

Attorney Oded Feller, head of ACRI's human rights unit, wrote in a letter to Shalom: "The Interior Ministry has no legitimate interest in encouraging or rewarding family units maintained by married Israeli citizens, or any sort of spousal relationship between two people."

Feller noted that many common-law spouses are unable to marry in Israel, and those who can are subject to a lengthy, unjust approval process.

"The Interior Ministry is acting constantly to create hardships for common-law spouses, including same-sex spouses, and now it aims to exacerbate the discrimination against them, in relation to married Israeli citizens, by means of the fee," Feller wrote, asking Shalom to withdraw the bill.

The Interior Ministry's Population, Immigration and Border Authority told Haaretz, "The procedure [called for in Shalom's bill] is meant to equalize the two processes (for married couples and common-law couples) and prevent the continuation of the inequality that, for technical reasons, existed a long time."