Diplomats, foreign workers, students and other noncitizens living in Israel had special cause for celebration over Passover and Easter week.
After waiting impatiently for the Health Ministry to enable them to obtain the official “green passports” that verify they have been vaccinated against COVID-19 or recovered from the virus, most have been successful in obtaining what is officially called a Green Pass over the past week.
Some, however, are still struggling. The green passport allows holders to enjoy theaters, gyms, pools, sporting events, weddings, hotels and indoor dining at restaurants.
“When it happened, it was super-exciting,” said Abby Miller, 19, a gap-year student from Deerfield, Illinois, who had been fully vaccinated in mid-March, but was unable to prove it until last Friday.
“Until then, all I had to show was a text message that said I got my second vaccine,” she said. “That worked for some places and I was let in, but it wasn’t viewed as being very reliable. I think I didn’t really try to go to very many places because of it. I didn’t want to get all ready to go out for dinner, reach the restaurant and then not be allowed in.”
Miller had tried several times to obtain the green passport, but “the app said I couldn’t move forward with the process.”
Israel’s green passport program made its debut on February 21, at the end of the country’s months-long third lockdown, and gave Israelis the ability to either create an official document with a unique QR code on their computer that can be printed out, or download an app onto their smartphone to prove their vaccinated or recovered status, in order to legally access destinations designated only for the vaccinated or recovered.
- Coronavirus Israel: Vaccine drive for younger teens may begin within a month, HMO chief says
- Israel’s ‘green passport’ raises a red flag about civil liberties
- Joyous Tel Avivians storm restaurants, seven months after they closed
However, for over a month, noncitizens have been unable to obtain one on the Health Ministry website. The site and app both required an Israeli identity number to obtain a passport, and only citizens and a small number of long-term foreign residents possess those.
In early March, the ministry assured Haaretz that “a plan will soon be formulated to address this population so that they too can receive the green passport.” When Haaretz contacted the ministry on Sunday for this story, it did not have anything to add.
But although no formal announcement has yet been made by the ministry, beginning last week, many noncitizens discovered they could obtain the green passport. They were able to enter their passport number on the website and in the app, together with the telephone number and birthdate they submitted when they received the vaccine, and get the Green Pass.
Sources in the diplomatic community reported that many staffers at foreign embassies had successfully downloaded green passports and were happy to be able to access restaurants and attend large gatherings and events without worry.
Miller’s roommate, Carly Shindler, another 19-year-old gap-year student, tested positive for COVID-19 early in the year and then recovered. While she waited for her green passport, Shindler said, she did the best she could with alternative documentation.
“I traveled to Eilat right after quarantine with other friends who had recovered from COVID, and they accepted our medical release forms and didn’t ask too many questions. But it will definitely be easier and more efficient to just be able to show the green passport,” Shindler said.
Some foreign residents, however, say they have yet to successfully navigate the system.
“The green passport has been an ongoing saga for us,” said Amy Collins, an American who lives and works in Jerusalem with her husband.
“We were getting error messages [on the website and app] for a long time, and then I found a way to get a vaccination certificate faxed to me via a phone line for people with kosher phones,” she said, referring to phones used by the ultra-Orthodox community that do not have internet access.
“My husband called the same line and was told they had no record of his vaccination,” Collins said. “Then he tried the website again and was granted both the vaccination certificate and the green passport. Then I tried it to get the green passport in addition to my certificate – and I still get an error message! Both our vaccines happened together, at the same site, so it truly seems random who it’s working for and who it’s not. It’s very strange.”
Collins said that she and her husband were unable to clarify the problem with Health Ministry.
Shindler and Miller said that while most of the participants had been able to download their green passport, there were still individual cases who hadn’t yet succeeded.
It was particularly important for students to access the green passport, Shindler stressed. Students and gap-year-program participants were in the country for a limited amount of time. For months, the pandemic had prevented them from being able to travel and explore, and they were eager to gain access to everything possible.
“Now that the country has opened up, everyone on my program is trying to squeeze everything in and do the things we should have been doing all year,” she said.
There had been particular concern regarding foreign workers who care for elderly Israelis and their inability to accompany their employers to places that required green passports.
“I was too nervous to go places because I was worried they would ask for the Green Pass and I wouldn’t have it,” said Nancy Bakki, a 38-year-old caregiver who came from India to Israel three years ago and tends to an elderly woman in the Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Hasharon. She downloaded the green passport last week, though. “Now I can go wherever I want. If they ask me, I can just show it to them,” she said.