Russia’s present political and military crisis encourages individuals with foreign backgrounds, particularly Israelis, to return to their historic homeland. Only last year, the country took nearly 40 thousand working-age Russian Jews ranging from 18 to 50. 

In addition, the total number of new repatriates in 2022 was above 50 thousand. This is a two-decade record. Ethnic Jews who resided before the Russian events had previously exercised their right of return and were in the process of obtaining Israeli citizenship.

Experts advise those who are only thinking about the possibility of moving to Israel under the repatriation program to take time. Not only is the procedure for returning to the historic homeland quite long, but in conditions of military conflict, even despite the possibility of emergency repatriation, it can take longer than usual. 

We learned how to exercise your right to return from Artem Dymskoy, a practicing international and commercial law attorney. The main representative of Burchills in Israel is engaged in legal support of processes for obtaining Israeli citizenship, including helping clients with “emergency” repatriation from Russia to Israel because of the military operation in Ukraine.

Artem, let’s start with the main question. 

Who has the right to repatriate to Israel?

– If we talk about repatriation in general, we identify two categories of foreigners. 

The first is ethnic Jews and their descendants up to the third generation: children, grandchildren, spouses, widows, and spouses of children and grandchildren. To start obtaining citizenship in Israel, they must collect a package of documents proving their kinship with Jews. 

The second group consists of non-Jews who have converted to Judaism. I should point out right away that it is not feasible to convert to Judaism only to obtain Israeli citizenship. Accepting the faith and demonstrating conformity to religious canons before a rabbinic court is part of the procedure.

First, you have to undergo lengthy training and then an exam. The main thing is that your faith must be sincere, observe all the religious requirements and customs, and find a family that will accompany you in your conversion. 

So now we are considering the first option because, in the current situation in Russia, people decide to exercise their right to repatriation precisely because they have direct Jewish relatives.

In these circumstances, are there any special conditions for obtaining Israeli citizenship?

– There are, of course. Under the current scenario, “emergency” repatriation is being discussed. To repatriate in normal circumstances, you must first apply to the Israeli consulate in Russia. 

You present your documentation proving your Jewish ancestry, you are then interviewed, and after a favorable decision, you can travel to Israel. At the airport, repatriates are met by representatives of the Ministry of Aliyah (Repatriation) and Integration, and you can receive your new repatriate certificate here. You will receive a cash payment.

If we are talking about “emergency” repatriation, on the one hand, the procedure is easier and faster; on the other hand, the human flow also increases the time required to obtain citizenship.

What is required for “emergency” repatriation?

– You must obtain all required papers and do not need to visit the Israeli embassy in your country. Before going through the passport check, you can travel to Israel and announce a change of status from tourist to repatriate. 

Then you must pass the consul check, during which he will analyze your documents and conduct an interview. Prepare to explain why you employed “emergency” repatriation. Once the consul approves your application, you will be issued repatriation permission and all essential documentation.

If you are refused repatriation, you can remain in Israel as a tourist. In addition, the consul may ask for the missing information, in which case you will be classified as a tourist.

How does it go?

– From the beginning of the special operation, Nativ consuls are mandatorily present at the Jerusalem airport. They interview applicants for a change of status from tourist to repatriate. 

However, they do not make the final decision, and this remains in the authority of the Israeli Ministry of Interior. Nativ only conducts an initial check of the documents of those newcomers who insist on their Jewishness. 

After that, you must go to one of the Ministry of Interior offices in your new residence. It is essential to know that during the check, consuls may require a rental agreement or confirmation of the presence of a relative with whom you plan to reside. 

You can apply for a status change at this stage and receive the questionnaire required for the next visit to Nativ.

Do I need a visa if I plan to repatriate?

– Yes, you can only do it with a visa. You can enter the country as a tourist, and your visa will be valid for three months. It is not a fact that you will get to your first visit to the Ministry of Interior during this time, and it is almost guaranteed that you will only have time to complete part of the process. Accordingly, your tourist visa will need to be extended, possibly more than once.

Who ultimately decides to grant Israeli citizenship: the Interior Ministry or the Nativ?

– The Ministry of Interior, and Nativ, plays a significant role in the decision. If Nativ gives you a positive recommendation, your chances of approval are much higher. Technically, Nativ has an advisory vote, and there have been cases where an MHA officer has overturned a consul’s decision, albeit extremely rare. 

Once you receive a positive recommendation from Nativ, you will need to sign up again at the Ministry of Internal Affairs and wait your turn, this time for citizenship.

Can you list the basic package of documents required?

– First of all, you must have a passport that is valid for at least one year, photographs that meet the requirements, proof of Jewish ancestry and the applicant himself, birth certificates of all family members, proof of marital status of all family members, certificates of a criminal record for all family members over 14 years, employment record book if available, documents of the applicant, confirming the authenticity of identity. 

It is worth noting that all documents must be apostilled if necessary. But these are only general recommendations. Each case requires a preliminary study of the entire package of documents and an individual strategy for the entire process. 

In peacetime, it was right to do this in advance, before you arrive in Israel, but now for many, it is more important to get to Israel as quickly as possible. 

So save time; look for a ticket to the next Tel Aviv flight! And to assess the chances of the evidence you have in hand and adequately prepare for the interview, it is extremely useful to seek professional legal assistance from a lawyer whose interests lie in the plane of international law.