From Diplomats to Students, Foreigners in Israel Get Vaccinated but Are Denied ‘Green Passport’

Foreign students, diplomats, asylum seekers and other non-citizens have received the Pfizer vaccine in Israel. But getting certification that grants them access to public spaces is proving more complicated

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A vaccine clinic for migrant workers and asylum seekers in south Tel Aviv last month.
A vaccine clinic for migrant workers and asylum seekers in south Tel Aviv last month. Credit: Hadas Parush

Non-Israeli citizens who have received the COVID-19 vaccine as part of the country’s inoculation drive – including diplomats, migrant workers and foreign students – are currently unable to obtain the “green passport” introduced by the Health Ministry to help the local economy open up again.

The new initiative allows those who have received both shots of the Pfizer vaccine to access public spaces such as houses of worship, cultural events, fitness and dance studios, restaurants and bars, hotels, gyms and swimming pools. The Green Pass, as it is officially known, can be downloaded from the Health Ministry website or an app called Ramzor, but both have suffered technical issues since coming online last month.

The Health Ministry told Haaretz that “special populations,” including foreign students, migrant workers, non-nationals and those who are not registered with an Israeli health care provider, cannot currently be issued a green passport.

“A plan will soon be formulated to address this population so that they too can receive the green passport,” the ministry said.

Nina S., a student from Colorado studying at Tel Aviv University, received her second dose of the vaccine in January (Haaretz is respecting her request that her full name not be published). She qualified for her vaccine early as she volunteers with seniors, playing chess with elderly Israelis every week.

She received a vaccination certificate from her Israeli health care provider, Leumit, but this certificate has since been superseded by the green passport.

The passport, which has a unique QR code for those who download it to their smartphone, is now needed to officially gain access to most public spaces. For example, green passport holders are allowed to eat indoors at Israeli restaurants, while those without it can only dine outside.

Nina called the Health Ministry last week, but was told she can’t get the green passport unless she’s an Israeli citizen. She also contacted her Israeli health care provider, but they were unable to assist her.

“There’s clearly been no coordination between the Health Ministry and the health care providers on this issue,” Nina said.

Another student at Tel Aviv University, Batya Goldberg, received the vaccine in February and said that while she was “extremely grateful that as a noncitizen of Israel I was able to receive a vaccine,” she was also disappointed that she can’t receive the passport.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu unveiling the green passport on a smartphone last month.

“Not having the green passport right now is denying me of finally restoring some normalcy,” the New York native said.

Even diplomats, many of whom were given the vaccine at the Herzliya Medical Center, have not been exempt from the frustration.

While they are able to download a vaccine certificate from the center’s website, they cannot obtain the official government documentation confirming they are vaccinated. Even those who are covered by Israeli health maintenance organizations report that without an Israeli ID number, they are unable to complete the download procedure.

“I went online to try to get the green passport,” said an American expat who asked not to be identified. “We have local insurance and got our vaccines through the Maccabi HMO, but as non-citizens we couldn’t get access. Tonight I am going to a restaurant for the first time with Israeli friends, and I’m worried because everyone else will have their green passport and I will only have my HMO certificate.

“I don’t want this to keep me from participating in things, and it is hard enough for foreigners who aren’t fluent in Hebrew to navigate things post-COVID. This is another bump in the road,” they said.

Embassies and companies have been lobbying the Health Ministry for a solution and, according to a WhatsApp group for expats, were told the government is “trying to resolve the technical issue of issuing the appropriate documentation to non-Israeli ID holders.”

More and more venues are expected to use the system as a way of assuring the public that their space is only accessible to the vaccinated or those who have recovered from the coronavirus.

The green passport is also seen as a vital tool in Israel’s efforts to kick-start its economy, which has taken a massive hit over the past year – leaving foreigners puzzled as to why they haven’t been included.

“If the goal is reopening the economy, then it doesn’t make sense to exclude an entire segment of the population,” Goldberg said.

Batya Goldberg.

There are currently an estimated 21,000 foreign students in Israel, with many based in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Other non-nationals affected include migrant workers, undocumented foreign nationals and asylum seekers – whom the government has made special efforts to vaccinate.

According to the Population and Immigration Authority, there are about 100,000 foreign workers in Israel with work permits and another 17,000 with expired permits, some 30,000 asylum seekers and another 60,000 foreign nationals who have remained in Israel after their tourist visas expired.

Zoe Gutzeit, director of the migrant department at Physicians for Human Rights in Israel, told Haaretz that as more asylum seekers and migrant workers become vaccinated, “We’re hearing more about people’s frustration regarding the inability to get the vaccination certificates. For many asylum seekers, lack of this certificate currently prevents them from getting their jobs back or finding new places of employment, as most employers prefer people with official vaccination certificates.

“Asylum seekers have been struggling to make ends meet as it is, with the level of poverty and near-famine at an all-time high, and any further postponement might further exacerbate the already dire conditions of many families and individuals. We urge the Health Ministry to solve this technical problem as soon as possible.”

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