As the COVID-19 restrictions are scaled-down, more and more Jews worldwide are starting to think about immigrating to Israel. There are many reasons for this behaviour, which include the relative success of Israel’s efforts fighting the pandemic, as well as increasing antisemitism.
Citizens of the UK, US, Canada, and many other countries can make aliyah and receive Israeli citizenship without any issue. However, not everyone is so lucky – there are many states around the world, which prohibit multiple citizenships (Germany is a good example). Acquisition of citizenship of another country means that your old citizenship is revoked by operation of law.
One such state is Latvia, which does not allow dual citizenship with Israel. I am a citizen of Latvia, and back in 2016, I had to find a way to keep my Latvian citizenship when making the aliyah.
Before I go any further, I would like to note that I am not a lawyer; this post does not constitute legal advice and is not intended to call to action. I only want to share my experiences in the hope that someone might find them helpful. The information provided is true to my knowledge, but it may have changed since 2016.
At first, I attempted to receive a dual citizenship permit from the Government of Latvia. I was told that such permits are only issued for reasons of state. Clearly, I needed to find a different way.
I have found out that making aliyah and receiving Israeli citizenship are not intrinsically linked. It turned out that it is possible to make aliyah without becoming a citizen of Israel. The official process is described here.
Since I have been applying for an aliyah at the end of my MASA programme, I had to exchange my student visa for an immigrant visa during a visit to the Ministry of Interior. There I have told the officials that I do not want to become a citizen of Israel. After that I was taken to a back room, where a (more) senior official explained to me the consequences of my decision:
- Instead of citizenship, I would receive a permanent residence permit (like a US Green Card).
- I would not be able to vote in the Knesset Elections.
- I would be able to vote in local elections.
- I would not be able to be elected to of Knesset or as a mayor of a city.
- I would be able to be elected to a city council (but not as a mayor).
- I would not be able to work in jobs requiring a security clearance (I am not sure about the non-security related jobs in the government).
- I would receive a regular tehudat zehut.
- I would not be able to receive an Israeli passport; instead, I would get a multiple entry visa in my Latvian passport, and I would have to use that to enter and exit Israel.
- If I do not live in Israel for 7 consecutive years, my permanent residence permit will be cancelled (I do not know how to renew it in such a case).
- If I ever decide that I want to become a citizen of Israel, I will have to do it by the way of naturalization. To be eligible for the naturalization I would have to renounce my other citizenship(s), prove that I can speak Hebrew, possess a permanent residence permit and live in Israel. The process is described here.
If there are any other restrictions, I know nothing about them. I am eligible for the same benefits as all Israeli residents and olim hadashim. For example, I have received assistance from the Ministry of Immigration and Absorption.
It is important to note that not being an Israeli citizen does not exempt one from any obligations. I still pay all the taxes and Bituach Leumi contributions. Also, the service in the army is still mandatory for those who choose to make aliyah without accepting Israeli citizenship.
I was quite happy about the conditions described above, so I signed some papers and in return, I have received a document, which states that I did not acquire Israeli citizenship when I made aliyah.
By the way, the possibility not to acquire the citizenship of Israel is the reason why new immigrants need to wait for three months after aliyah before applying for their Israeli passport. The option not to acquire Israeli citizenship can only be exercised in the first three months after making aliyah. Should someone need the Israeli passport earlier, such a person would need to sign a declaration stating that they will not exercise the option of not accepting Israeli citizenship.