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Summary

Children born in Israel do not acquire citizenship automatically based on birth.  Children of persons who do not have legal residence in Israel, whether born in or outside of Israel, are generally not eligible for resident status independent of their parents.

A temporary, one-time arrangement approved by the Israeli government in 2005 and amended in 2006 allowed the children of persons who entered Israel legally but overstayed their visas to qualify for permanent residence if they were assimilated into Israeli society and culture, were present in Israel and had been living in it continuously for at least six years, and had entered Israel before their fourteenth birthday.  Additional requirements for qualification included fluency in Hebrew and completion of the first grade or a higher grade in Israel.  Those who were granted permanent residence under this program may later be granted Israeli citizenship if they are present in Israel, are believed by the Minister of Interior to “identify with the State of Israel and its objectives,” and serve or have family members who served on active duty in the Israel Defense Forces.

Regardless of whether they have resident status, the children of persons who do not have legal residence in Israel are entitled to certain health, social, and educational benefits in accordance with Israeli law and government programs.  A special arrangement for private health insurance partially funded by the state applies to such children.

I. Introduction

Birth in Israel does not by itself bestow a right to Israeli citizenship.[1]  Children born in Israel to nonresident foreign nationals, therefore, cannot acquire Israeli citizenship by birth alone.  Nor can they be naturalized, as they do not comply with the naturalization requirement of being eligible for permanent residence.[2]  The resident status of children who entered Israel after birth is generally tied to that of their parents.

Children in Israel who do not have legal resident status include those who were born in Israel as well as those who arrived legally but overstayed their visas, or those who arrived illegally, crossing undesignated border crossings.[3]  Two main groups are recognized: the children of foreign workers, mainly caregivers from the Philippines who entered the country based on a valid work visa but overstayed, and the children of “infiltrators” and asylum-seekers whose entry was not authorized.[4]

As a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child,[5] Israel is committed to providing minors staying within its territory basic rights, including the right to an education, health care, and social welfare.[6]  These requirements are implemented through domestic legislation and a variety of private and governmental programs.

After discussing the legal status of “infiltrators,” this report describes an exceptional, one-time program offered in 2006 for granting legal residence to children and families of foreigners who entered Israel legally but overstayed their visas.  It provides information on a possible path to citizenship for those qualified under this program.  The report also addresses social and economic benefits enjoyed by all children who do not have legal resident status in Israel.

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II.  Legal Status of “Infiltrators”

In accordance with Law for the Prevention of Infiltration, 5714-1954, an “infiltrator” is a nonresident who entered Israel through an undesignated land crossing as determined by the Minister of Interior.[7]  Tens of thousands of African migrants entered Israel illegally via undesignated land crossings from Egypt between 2006 and 2016.  Most of these migrants were Eritrean and Sudanese nationals claiming to have escaped political persecution in their countries.[8]  At the end of 2016 there were 37,016 “infiltrators” in Israel, not including children born to them.  

According to Israeli military sources the number of individuals unlawfully entering Israel through its border with Egypt has greatly declined due to the construction of a barrier on the border with Egypt.[9]  A Knesset report provides that there were only eighteen successful attempts to illegally cross the border in 2016.[10]

Only a small number of the Eritrean or Sudanese “infiltrators” in Israel have received refugee status; the remainder are subject to a policy of temporary nonremoval.  Some of these “nonremovable foreigners” (NRFs) have stayed in Israel ten years or longer.[11]  Although not afforded legal resident status, NRFs and their children enjoy certain benefits, including health care and education.[12]

The impact of the presence of NRFs on public security and on the state budget has been the subject of a review by the State Comptroller’s Office.[13]  A focus of continuous public debate, the nonremoval of “infiltrators” and their children, and the conditions of their stay in Israel, has been reviewed by various Knesset committees and by the Supreme Court.[14]

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III.  Residence and Path to Citizenship for Children of Persons Who Overstayed Their Visas

As noted, the children of persons who do not have legal residence in Israel are not eligible for such status independent of their parents.  In 2005, however, the government issued a limited, one-time temporary arrangement, amended in 2006, whereby the children of persons who entered Israel legally but overstayed their visas could apply for resident status under the Temporary Arrangement for Grant of Status for Children of Illegal Residents, Their Parents and Siblings Who are Staying in Israel (TAGS).[15] The implementation of TAGS resulted in the grant of permanent residence to 500 out of 827 applicants.[16]  

As legal residents, those who qualified for residency under TAGS could in principle later be granted citizenship, under conditions specified in the Nationality Law, 5712-1952, if they or their family members served in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).[17]

A. Conditions for Grant of Permanent Residence under TAGS

TAGS provided permanent residence to a select group of children of persons who entered Israel lawfully but outstayed their visas.  As expressly stated in the 2006 Government Decision announcing TAGS, this was a temporary, one-time arrangement that did not reflect any change in the Israeli government position with regard to immigration.[18]  The Government Decision implementing TAGS provided as follows:

A.    The Minister of Interior is authorized to grant a license for permanent residence in Israel to the children of illegal residents, who have assimilated into Israeli society and its culture (hereafter: “the child”) upon their request, as long as they have fulfilled all the following conditions:

1)     At the time of adoption of this decision the child is present in Israel and has been living in it continuously for a period of at least 6 years, as long as she/he has entered Israel before the age of 14 . . . .

2)     The child’s parents entered Israel lawfully under a permit and a license under the Entry into Israel Law, 5712-1952, prior to the date of [the child’s] birth or entry into Israel.

3)     The child speaks the Hebrew language.

4)     At the time of adoption of this decision the child has been studying in first grade or a higher grade in a school in Israel, or has graduated from his/her said studies.

5)     To meet the requirements of this arrangement the requesters will be required to produce clear evidence to substantiate their request, including by way of a hearing, and including production of documentation regarding their place of residence in Israel, the date of entry into or birth in Israel, and the place of education in Israel.

B.     The Minister of Interior may bestow a license for temporary residence in Israel to the child’s parents and siblings, as long as those [persons] have resided with him/her in a joint household in Israel consecutively from the date of his/her birth or entry into Israel and are present in Israel at the time of adoption of this decision.  A short exit for a visit outside of Israel shall not constitute a break in continuous [stay] for purposes of this provision.

In the absence of any other reason the temporary residence permit of [the child’s] family members . . . will be extended on an annual basis until the child has reached the age of 21.  At this time they will be able to request a permit for permanent residence, as long as their status has not been regulated as part of the decisions of the Ministerial Committee . . . regarding a grant of status for both parents of a soldier.[19]

TAGS did not apply to persons regarding whom there were criminal or security concerns.[20]

B.    Path to Citizenship for TAGS Beneficiaries

Those who were granted permanent residence under TAGS may be granted Israeli citizenship if they are present in Israel, are believed by the Minister of Interior to “identify with the State of Israel and its objectives,” and serve or have family members who have served in active duty in the Israel Defense Forces.[21]

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IV.  Health Care Services

A. General Services

Every legal resident in Israel is insured under the National Health Insurance Law, 5754-1994 (NHIL).[22]  Not recognized as residents, NRFs are not covered under the NHIL but are entitled to emergency care in accordance with the Patient’s Rights Law, 5756-1996.[23]  NRFs reportedly receive emergency hospital care, including medical care in emergency rooms and hospitalization in urgent cases, including surgeries, births, and intensive care for premature babies.[24]

Additional services freely provided to NRFs include

  • abortions for minors and rape victims,
  • well-visits for mothers and babies in infants’ clinics,
  • routine immunizations and development follow-ups for babies,
  • treatment of sexually transmitted diseases in the Tel-Aviv Levinsky Clinic,
  • diagnosis and care for tuberculosis,
  • medical care for victims of human trafficking,
  • medical care for those staying in the Holot NRFs facility,
  • a community program for treatment of HIV/AIDS, and
  • dialysis and medication treatment for diabetes patients.[25]

Two additional clinics designated for “foreigners” operate in Tel-Aviv, where a large community of NRFs resides, with partial funding from the Ministry of Health.  One of those clinics specializes in mental health.[26]

Privately funded services for foreigners are also operating in Israel.  These include a clinic operated by Physicians for Human Rights, hospital funds that support medical treatment to foreigners, and private doctors who provide care on a voluntary basis.  Private health insurance policies may also be available.[27]

B.    Health Insurance for Minors through the United Health Fund

As noted, the children of foreigners, including those born to NRFs, enjoy free, routine well-visits and immunizations.  Under a voluntary agreement with United Health Fund, one of the licensed public health funds permitted to provide health services under the NHIL, parents may acquire insurance for their children.  This includes NRFs or other foreigners whose stay in Israel is unauthorized, such as foreign workers and tourists whose visas have expired.  In accordance with data provided by the Ministry of Health, at the end of 2016 there were 6,772 nonresident minors insured under this arrangement.[28]

In accordance with the arrangement with United Health Fund, in 2016 the cost for a policy for a minor was 280 New Israeli Shekels (NIS) (approx. US$80), with parents having to pay NIS 120 (approx. US$34) to NIS 240 (approx. US$68), and the Ministry of Health adding NIS 160 (approx. US$45).  The Ministry pays in full beginning with the third child.[29]  Minors insured under this arrangement are entitled to almost identical services given to Israeli residents under the National Health Insurance Law, excluding services provided abroad, with receipt of medical care requiring a copay similar to the one required from all residents.[30]

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V.  Educational Services

All children living in Israel, including the children of foreign workers, are entitled to education in accordance with the Compulsory Education Law, 5709-1949, regardless of the resident status of their parents.[31]  Children of NRFs are not entitled to remedial lessons, however.[32]

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Prepared by Ruth Levush
Senior Foreign Law Specialist
September 2017


[1] Nationality Law, 5712-1952, § 4, Sefer HaHukim [SH] [Book of Laws (official gazette)] 5712, No. 95, p. 146, as amended.

[2] Id. § 5.

[3] Neta Moshe, Knesset Information and Research Center (KIRC), Education System Services for the Population of Children of Foreigners without Civil Status 3 (Jan. 23, 2014), https://www.knesset. gov.il/mmm/data/pdf/m03357.pdf (in Hebrew), archived at https://perma.cc/528K-VGDY.

[4] Id.  For a definition and discussion of applicable rules for “infiltrators,” see discussion, infra.

[5] Convention on the Rights of the Child, Nov. 20, 1989, http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Professional Interest/crc.pdf, archived at https://perma.cc/383L-4SRJ.

[6] Moshe, Education System Services, supra note 3, at 4.

[7] Law for the Prevention of Infiltration (Offenses and Jurisdiction), 5714-1954, §1, SH 5714, No. 161, p. 160, as amended.

[8] For further information, see Ruth Levush, Refugee Law and Policy: Israel (Law Library of Congress, Mar. 2016), https://www.loc.gov/law/help/refugee-law/israel.php, archived at https://perma.cc/3YPL-5QNN.

[9] Anna Ahronheim, Israel Completes Heightened Egypt Border Fence,Jerusalem Post (Jan. 18, 2017), http://www.jpost.com/Israel-News/Israel-completes-heightened-Egypt-border-fence-478840, archived at https://perma.cc/8ZMF-4K2Y.

[10] Neta Moshe, KIRC, Inclusion of Non-Removable Foreigners in the Health Basket – Cost Estimate 2 (Mar. 19, 2017), https://www.knesset.gov.il/mmm/data/pdf/m03926.pdf (in Hebrew), archived at https://perma.cc/ZVZ4-K8TF.

[11] Id.

[12] For information on the law governing refugees and “infiltrators,” see Levush, supra note 8.

[13] State Comptroller and Ombudsman of Israel, Non-Removable Foreigners: Annual Report 64C for 2012–13, http://www.mevaker.gov.il/he/Reports/Pages/248.aspx (in Hebrew), archived at https://perma.cc/AAN4-XGTU.

[14] See, e.g., Adm. App. 8101/15 Tsagata v. Minister of Interior (Supreme Court, Aug. 28, 2017), http://elyon1.court.gov.il/files/15/010/081/c29/15081010.c29.pdf (in Hebrew), archived at https://perma.cc/39JK-8BM5.

[15] TAGS, Government Decision No. 156 (June 18, 2006), http://www.pmo.gov.il/Secretary/GovDecisions/2006/ Pages/des156.aspx (in Hebrew), archived at https://perma.cc/6C2B-DGW7.

[16] Ministry of Interior Arranges Status of Children of Illegal Residents, Globes (June 18, 2007), http://www.globes. co.il/news/article.aspx?did=1000222748 (in Hebrew), archived at https://perma.cc/438G-Q5CU.

[17] Nationality Law, 5712-1952, § 9, SH 5712, No. 95, p. 146, as amended.

[18] TAGS, supra note 15, § C.

[19] Id. §§ A & B (translation and emphasis by author, R.L.).

[20] Id. § C.

[21] Nationality Law, 5712-1952, § 9, SH 5712, No. 95, p. 146, as amended.

[22] National Health Insurance Law, 5754-1994, §3, SH 5754, No. 1469, p. 156, as amended.

[23] Patient’s Rights Law, 5756-1996, SH 5756, No. 1591, p. 327, § 3, as amended.

[24] Moshe, Inclusion of Non-Removable Foreigners in the Health Basket, supra note 10, at 2.

[25] Id. at 3.

[26] Id.

[27] Id. at 4.

[28] Id.

[29] Id. at 4–5 (citing information received from the Ministry of Health).

[30] Id. at 5.

[31] Compulsory Education Law, 5709-1949, SH No. 26, p. 287, as amended.

[32] For challenges faced by local municipalities with NRFs population see Moshe, Education System Services, supra note 3.