All foreign nationals who wish to work in Israel must first apply for an Israel work permit, the B-1 visa. Obtaining a work visa in Israel is no walk in the park, and you will need to be patient, dedicated and organised to get one. The only foreigners exempt from this rule are those Jews making aliyah to Israel, as these individuals will be "returning to the homeland" and requesting citizenship.
There are two main routes to getting a work visa in Israel:
- From a prospective employer
- Through your spouse/ partner (no marriage certificate necessary)
Applying for a work visa in Israel through your employer
Finding an employer to sponsor your work visa is the more difficult route and is one that largely depends on your situation.
First and foremost, you'll need to secure a job with an organisation willing to apply for the visa on your behalf. This can be much more complicated than it sounds, as in my experience, most employers are not interested in you if you do not already have a visa.
If you have a specific skill that is in demand in Israel, this may make the process easier, however.
If you do obtain a visa through your employer, you must remember that you are bound to that company sponsor. Thus, if you lose or quit your job, you are once again without a visa. In this case, upon termination of employment, you must notify Misrad Hapnim, who will supply you with a temporary visa for up to one month to find a new sponsor.
As the employment process in Israel is slow and can take up to six months, you may encounter difficulties finding a new sponsor before the temporary visa expires.
Applying for a work visa in Israel through your spouse
Alternatively, if you can apply for a visa through your spouse or partner, you'll find the process much less tedious and the entitlements far more flexible. With this visa, you can work where, in what industry, and for whom you like.
The process of applying for a work visa in Israel
The application process consists of the following steps:
- Acquire documents from your home country.
- Visit your local Misrad Hapnim (Ministry of Interior in Israel) for relevant forms and advice.
- Gather other necessary documents and letters.
- Submit application.
- Complete the application interview.
- Pay visa costs on receipt of visa.
Although you can start the process from your home country, you must apply for the visa in person in Israel. You should allow 2 to 4 months for the entire process and should enter Israel and remain on a valid B-2 tourist visa during this time.
You will be asked to present the following documents:
- Your full birth certificate (not the abbreviated version distributed at birth). You can apply to the General Register Office (GRO) for this document.
- Marriage certificate or proof of single status. The single status letter, known as a TWIMC (To Whom It May Concern) letter, can also be obtained from the GRO. This letter confirms that there are no marriage records from your 16th birthday to the date of application.
- Criminal record check from your home country. Apply to your local police department for this document.
- The above documents must bear an official apostille stamp, which can be obtained from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). If possible, get these documents before you leave your home country. If this is not an option, find a family member or friend to help you. Avoid visa agencies who charge exorbitant rates.
- Other required documents:
- Passport / ID copies
- Rental agreement or proof of residence
- Confirmation letter from your partner's work or university
Along with the documents mentioned above, if you are applying for a work visa with your spouse/partner as the sponsor, you will be asked to present proof of your relationship. You can submit photographs, emails, bills, hotel bookings, plane tickets, or anything that proves you are a couple. You will also need statements from friends and family declaring your relationship. Focus your attention on statements from contacts in Israel. Statements from your families are also regarded highly.
Before submitting your application, you will need a lawyer to authenticate your documents and stamp your application form.
The visa is valid for a year. To extend your visa, you must begin the application process one month before expiration.
Tips for getting a work visa in Israel
Don't arrive at the visa office with a stack of disorganised papers. Organise your documents in a folder, grouping together the official documents, statements, photographs, etc. Although you won't actually submit the folder, the authorities will be unimpressed to see you shuffling through mounds of paper. It will also give you peace of mind to know that you have everything you need and to know the exact whereabouts of each document. It is recommended that you photocopy everything before submission; unfortunately, it is not unheard of for documents to get lost in the office.
Don't worry if you haven't got everything that you need
If something is missing, a form or letter you just can't get your hands on, don't let it stop you from trying. In one case, an expat couple couldn't get a rental agreement signed by both of them, but the authorities saw that they had everything else and let them apply anyway. This may not always be the case, but trying doesn't hurt.
Be patient but persistent
No matter how organised you are, expect a long, arduous process. Prepare yourselves for numerous visits to the Misrad Hapnim, hours in the waiting room and frustratingly unhelpful staff. If you have a Hebrew speaker with you, it will make your life much easier.
Visa applications can sit around for weeks without being touched, so keep calling, make sure they know who you are and don't give up! Don't be afraid to make a fuss or demand to speak to the manager. It may be the only way to get things moving.
Match your stories
If you are applying for a work visa with your spouse or partner, once your application has been processed, you will be interviewed separately to check that your stories match – just like in the movies. In one couple's situation, they were quite easygoing with the expat, but their partner (the Israeli) got a bit of a grilling. It's generally expected that your stories match, but it doesn't hurt to review a few mock questions just in case.
Check your visa
Once you've got the visa, double, triple, quadruple check it. Check the names, dates and visa type; otherwise, you'll be right back there tomorrow trying to fix it. Be aware that if you intend to leave the country at any point, you'll need an entry visa in addition to the work permit; you should apply for this simultaneously.