How to get second citizenship under Israel’s Law of Return

Written by Andrew Henderson
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Dateline: Kaunas, Lithuania

Last week, I shared how ethnic Lithuanians can claim Lithuanian citizenship through ancestry.

The process is a lot easier for those whose Lithuanian ancestors left the country during Soviet or German occupation. Of course, Jews were a chief target in Lithuania and elsewhere during Nazi occupation.

In addition to many ancestral home countries that now offer citizenship to the ancestors of those oppressed, people of Jewish heritage seeking a second citizenship may also be able to claim an Israeli passport under Israel’s Law of Return.

The Law of Return has been discussed as a second passport strategy before, but the exact details have often been somewhat unclear.

While the Law of Return was designed to offer Israeli citizenship and an Israeli passport to ethnic Jews and those of Jewish faith, there are ways that non-Jews can qualify for a second passport as well.

The Law of Return was designed to further the creation of a Jewish state and was enacted by Israel’s unicameral parliament — the Knesset — in 1950, allowing for anyone of Jewish heritage to return to Israel as an “oleh” (immigrant).

Twenty years later, the Israeli government modified the rules to allow for a greater number of people to benefit from the Law of Return, including spouses and grandchildren of Jews.

Obtaining Israeli citizenship under the law is straightforward, but while citizenship can be conferred within a few months, you will not receive a full passport until the first anniversary of your Israeli citizenship.

The goal of the Law of Return is for Jews who wish to establish “the center of their life” in Israel to have the opportunity to do so. If you choose to do so, you will be required to show that you have established some ties to Israel in order to obtain a full travel document after your first year of citizenship.

Who qualifies for Israel’s Law of Return?

Any Jew is entitled to take advantage of the Law of Return if he or she intends to settle in Israel. “Jew” is defined as anyone whose mother or grandmother is a Jew, or has converted to Judaism.

Willing to convert to Judaism for a second citizenship? It is possible; although your local rabbi will have to assert that your reasons for converting are true, and not just for wanting a passport.

Anyone who converts to Judaism under the Orthodox, Conservative, or Reform denominations is eligible, although Conservative and Reform conversions must take place outside of Israel to qualify.

Some Orthodox Jews in Israel have complained that the Law of Return is a tool used by secular politicians to deemphasize the religious elements of the Israeli government.

Others have even suggested that more liberal denominations should be held to higher standards for immigration; however, all denominations of Jews are welcome under the Law of Return.

When the law was modified, it also allowed for the spouse, children, and grandchildren of a Jew to also qualify. It is possible to use the Law of Return, even if you are not Jewish, by falling into one of these categories.

You can claim “oleh” status and return to Israel even if your Jewish ancestor is no longer alive, or if he or she chooses not to go with you.

That is why claiming permanent resident status and near-instantaneous citizenship is relatively straightforward. I have to wonder how many non-Jews sought out a Jewish spouse to get an Israeli passport.

There are a few exceptions in which the Israeli government can deny your request under the Law of Return. The most notable is that those deemed a threat to Israel can be turned away. This includes those with felony histories in other countries or those who are wanted for extradition.

There have also been numerous court cases debating whether Messianic Jews qualify for citizenship. Originally, the Messianic denomination was deemed to be an entirely different religion from Judaism, but that view has been successfully challenged in some cases.

Lastly, it is possible to have your Israeli citizenship and passport revoked if you commit acts against the security of the country, or if you committed fraud to obtain the citizenship in the first place. It is considered traitorous to enter any of the so-called “enemy states”, which include Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.

Since its introduction, hundreds of thousands of non-Jews have claimed Israeli citizenship under the law, in addition to several million Jews. That is, of course, a significant number considering Israel’s population of eight million.

How to immigrate to Israel under the Law of Return

If you qualify for “oleh” status under the law, you must obtain an appropriate visa at your local consulate, or obtain said visa in Israel after arriving on a tourist visa. However, if you are a citizen of an Eastern European or former Soviet state, you must apply at your local consulate or Jewish agency.

Upon your arrival in Israel, there is a ninety-day waiting period before you can be awarded citizenship. However, citizenship is automatically granted unless you specifically ask the government not to grant you Israeli citizenship.

You are not required to remain in Israel during the ninety-day period and are free to travel on your current passport so long as you obtain an exit permit, which is typically a formality.

Even if you choose not to claim your Israeli citizenship, you will retain the “oleh” status with which you arrived, and which confers permanent resident status.

Other ways to get Israeli citizenship

There has been some debate in Israel about the need to continue the Law of Return. Some Israelis prefer that the law be eliminated entirely, arguing that too many non-Jews have taken advantage of their easy ability to get a passport merely by being married to a Jew or having some ancestry.

This only goes to show that when you have the opportunity to claim a second residency or second passport, you should take it — all things considered, of course. You never know when a certain program will be discontinued or modified to exclude you.

There are, however, other ways for a non-Jew to obtain a second citizenship in Israel.

If you are looking for an alternate citizenship to confer to your future children, citizenship by descent is possible for children born either in or outside of Israel. Any child who has an Israeli mother or father is eligible for Israeli citizenship, even if they are born out of the country.

That said, it is possible for a non-Jewish parent to pass Israeli citizenship to their child. However, citizenship by descent only applies to the first generation removed from the country.

Citizenship is also possible by naturalization, provided you have legal permanent resident status in Israel and have lived there for three of the previous five years. Obtaining permanent resident status, however, is rather rare and requires you to apply directly to the Minister of the Interior. Unless you’re a member of the Christian clergy, don’t hold your breath.

Naturalization in Israel also requires some knowledge of the Hebrew language and renouncing your current citizenship. In this way, the naturalization procedure is more strict in that citizenship issued under the Law of Return does not require you to renounce other citizenships.

The downsides of getting Israeli citizenship

No place is perfect, and while claiming an Israeli passport can be a good second citizenship strategy in some cases, you should be aware of the negatives.

Not only are Israelis forbidden to visit or marry someone from any of the “enemy states”, but many countries deny entry to Israeli passport holders. Heck, some countries deny entry to ANYONE with an Israeli passport stamp, or even proof of a land border crossing, from entering.

While most of the countries that don’t recognize Israeli passports aren’t exactly romantic tourist destinations, you must obtain permission from the government to enter Malaysia on an Israeli passport. Additionally, you are allowed to transit through the United Arab Emirates (Dubai and Abu Dhabi are high-traffic airline hubs in the region), but are not allowed admission into the country.

Military service is a requirement of every Israeli over 18, and that military service requirement will also pass on to your Israeli citizen children. Very few non-Arabs who request to be excused from national service have their requests approved, so take this into serious consideration.

Israel isn’t exactly a tax haven, either. Personal income tax rates go as high as 48% on incomes in the low six figures. Israel taxes residents on their worldwide income, using the same “center of life” standard to determine tax status as is used to determine eligibility for a full-fledged passport.

So don’t plan on using an Israeli passport to escape high taxes, although it’s possible you could always leave Israel after living there for several years.

Speaking of leaving, it can be very hard to give up your Israeli citizenship if you so choose in the future. You can apply to cancel your citizenship, but your desire to do so is not enough; your application must be approved by the government, which usually only approves applications for Israelis who have been long absent from the country.

How this applies to those who go on to acquire citizenship in countries that forbid dual nationality — such as Singapore — is unknown.

As I said, many in Israel are protesting the liberal immigration rules under the Law of Return. There are definitely downsides to holding an Israeli passport, not least of which include an even greater lack of security than holding an American passport.

However, considering that Israel does allow dual citizenship for those applying under the Law of Return, it is a reasonable second citizenship to consider if you are willing to live by the rules.

That makes the Law of Return worth considering as part of your personal second passport strategy.

Andrew Henderson
Last updated: Dec 29, 2019 at 6:11AM

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47 Comments

  1. JIDSG

    I made Aliyah 8 years ago. I now have dual US and Israeli citizenship. What if I owe money to an Israeli institution and they block my Israeli passport from leaving israel (Arzot Hapoel). Can I leave Israel on my American passport. My entire family still lives in the US and my grandmother is deathly ill. If she dies I would like to know that I can be there in the US for her funeral.

    Reply
  2. PeacefulLife

    I’ll pass on this one.

    Reply
    • UtherLightbringer

      Why?

      Reply
  3. Tom Hudson

    I need help.
    I am fully English and not Jewish. I want to become a Jew, but my family are not Jewish. I want to get Israeli citizenship and still keep my English because it is my roots. Is this possible ??

    Reply
    • George Vance

      Yes. Israel accepts dual citizenship. What you would have to do would be to convert to Orthodox Judaism (which is a process that takes roughly 2-3 years of study and will require a penile circumcision). Once you are certified as an Orthodox Jew, you can be considered for the Law of Return. In order to gain Israeli citizenship, though, you need to actually go to Israel for at least 3 months to solidify your connection and then apply for Israeli citizenship. At no point in this process (including final Israeli MOI approval) will you be asked to or forced to forfeit your British nationality.

      Reply
  4. sonam

    i want to become a jew , but my family are not jewish. is it possible for me to gt a citizenship???

    Reply
    • George Vance

      Yes. What you would have to do would be to convert to Orthodox Judaism (which is a process that takes roughly 2-3 years of study and will require a penile circumcision). Once you are certified as an Orthodox Jew, you can be considered for the Law of Return. In order to gain Israeli citizenship, though, you need to actually go to Israel for at least 3 months to solidify your connection and then apply for Israeli citizenship.

      Reply
  5. Keri Oko

    How do we contact you? We are a group of Igbos from Nigeria and are looking for the protection under the law of return. Some of us live in America, whilst some of us live in Nigeria still. We do follow the Karaite tradition as a tendency with the patriarch as the breeder & the seed so to say, of the Jewishness. Any guidance you have would be greatly appreciated. Currently I am a member of the reform Temple but if I need to convert to conservativism I can get that done as well even though I ran from it when I was a teenager. I may not find it fair, but a great deal of us want to be in Israel asap.

    Reply
    • George Vance

      Unfortunately, given the Igbo’s tenuous connection to Judaism from the perspective of the Orthodox Jewish religious authorities in Israel, you will need to have an official conversion to Orthodox Judaism (which is a process that takes roughly 2-3 years of study and will require a penile circumcision – if you already have one, than a drop of blood must be taken). Once you are certified as an Orthodox Jew, you can be considered for the Law of Return. In order to gain Israeli citizenship, though, you need to actually go to Israel for at least 3 months to solidify your connection and then apply for Israeli citizenship.

      Reply
  6. Barbra Dickson

    For purposes of getting citizenship, can a person who is messianic get citizenship without having the traditional religion? My family isn’t “Jewish”, but my mothers side has been genetically tested positive for the heritage. Can I get citizenship with the test or not?

    Reply
    • George Vance

      Typically, Messianic Jews are not accepted for the Right of Return since the Israeli government considers Messianic Judaism to be a form of Christianity. not Judaism. While there are a few cases that have been challenged in court, it is not worth it to try and force the issue. As for genetic heritage, the Law of Return does not concern itself with such things, but actually cares about communal identification. If nobody in your grandparents’ generation was a Jew (in the sense that they are on some ledger or document – including a synagogue membership), then you are not a Jew, even if you have DNA sequences that show some kind of Jewish heritage. You would need to convert to Orthodox Judaism or marry a Jew to have the Right of Return apply to you.

      Reply
  7. Terry Braverman

    You did not mention anything about a litmus test to prove one is Jewish. What is the criteria for proving it?

    Reply
    • George Vance

      According to the Law of Return, a person is a Jew if (1) they are born into a Jewish family, regardless of sect, or (2) they have at least one Jewish grandparent, or (3) they converted to Orthodox Judaism or (4) they married a Jew who qualifies under points 1, 2, or 3.

      Reply
  8. Valery Gabayno

    Shalom Andrew,

    Gladly I found this website. I’m presently 21, and a Filipino citizen wanting to enlist in the IDF (Israeli Army) next year. I know I will only be eligible for voluntary service, and they require me an Israeli citizenship (although I know some Filipino IDF soldiers who enlisted without Israeli citizenship).
    I’m not Jewish nor Israeli citizen, like Filipino IDF soldiers I know of. And I do not know what kind of visa must be presented, if it is a work visa or a residency visa.
    Can I ask what is the appropriate visa for it?

    I hope you can help me answer this question, and thank you.

    Reply
  9. DAVID

    I want to settle in israel my grand mother live in israel and i am jew so help me i want israeli passports right now i live
    In india and my community is also know as bnei manashe one of the Israeli lost tribe i also want to serve in IDF

    Reply
  10. Stephanie

    What does it mean by your mother or grandmother must be Jewish besides the obvious? What I mean is that I am told that I am Jewish by decent (heritage not religion). If I go back to my family tree I can see the Jewish last name. But my mother nor grandmother holds that last name. Does that mean I am would be denied a chance for citizenship?

    Reply
    • Gennady

      hello,
      i am an Israel citizen and as far as i know from my studying in high-school you can become an Israel citizen if one of your parents is a Jew, if the Judaism is not in your family tree from the female side then the opportunity only lasts for 3 generations from the the last Jewish.
      for example:
      if your grand grand father was Jew and his wife wasn’t then you are not allowed to have a citizenship.
      if your father is jewish or grandfather than you can come to israel and stay here as much as you want.
      Good Luck. 🙂

      Reply
    • Chris

      I have also been researching this to determine my ability to have a “Right to return”.

      In my research I have found that the statement “a mother or grand mother who is Jewish” to simply be a restriction on how far back you can reach in resent generations to begin establishing Jewish Right of Return”. Jewish birth liniage is Matriarcle. So basically, you are considered Jewish if you are born from a Jewish woman no matter who your father is. If you don’t know or can’t show your mother qualifies as a Jew then go to HER mother (Yout Grandmother) to see if you can identify her as Jewish. If your G-ma is Jewish then her female offspring will produce Jewish babies. Hence your mother would be considered Jewish under the “Right of Return” and further more making you Jewish. If that is the case ALL OF your children will be Jewish no matter the parental lineage. All of your daughters will have qualifying children. Your grandsons however, who are decendant of your sons by a non-Jew woman and who produce great grand children with a woman who is not a qualifying Jew will NOT produce Jewish children.

      But one could always convert for immediate citizenship
      OR
      Nationalization is easy but you can not marry a Jewish woman if you are not recognized as Jewish (eg. Nationalized Israelites Of non Jewish heritage can not legally marry Israeli women of Jewish decent without converting)

      Reply
  11. sea slob

    My father is Jew but my mother isnt. It does not seem fair that I cant get dual citizenship. To goyam I am a Jew and to Jews I am a goyam. It’s like being half black. Accepted by neither. Is there anything I can do?

    Reply
    • David

      Under the Israel’s Law of Return you would still qualify for citizenship with a Jewish father (or even grandfather), even though under religious law you wouldn’t be considered Jewish. (since you don’t have a Jewish mother).

      Reply
    • Marilyn Schenerman Logiudice

      I’m getting indirect answers frm all i read.My father,azkeanik jew deceased my mother catholic deceased w/some Jew in her confirmed by dna.my dna says I’m more than 50%jew.Lived amongst Jewish community yrs ago. I consider myself Jewish an wat I read if my dna says I’m 50% or more that I am an can have dual citizenship.What do you say after respecting all Jewish holidays? Would God deny me or is this a human qualification to be a Jew?

      Reply
      • Md Lyas Uddin Bhuiyan

        I am Bangladeshi by Barth and also born in Muslim Family, I want to go Israel and stay for rest of the life . This is my wishes. …reason personal…

        Reply
    • Marilyn Schenerman Logiudice

      At one time ppl were able to convert to judiaim because they were losing a lot of Jews.laws have changed now more stricken n not the same as to whose a Jew n who isn’t.with over 50% azkewenic Jew in me long ago I would of been considered a Jew. And now?Father totally Jewish mom was a catholic. I took a dna test which was acceptable for being s Jew n there’s contrversy about it.Moms dna had a bit of Jew in it,frm where we don’t know.all are deceased.Is this a man made law or is it Gods word n if so, direct me to where it says I wouldn’t be accepted as a Jew or Get dual citizenship. If manmade law, I think it’s terrible u would deny someone who lived in a Jewish neighborhood went to school to learn language n observed all Jewish holidays. Ppl as myself are more Jewish than those born frm a Jewish mother who many I no observe money only!!! Sorry but true

      Reply
      • George Vance

        Marilyn, there is a difference between Jewish Religious Law and Israeli National Law. One is a set of religious codifications and the other are the laws of a country. Under Jewish Religious Law, since your mother was a Non-Jew, you would also be a Non-Jew since Judaism is passed matrilineally. Under Israeli National Law, any person qualifies as a Jew for the purposes of the Law of Return if they have at least one Jewish grandparent. Since your father was a Jew, you would qualify under Israel’s law.

        Reply
  12. Marilyn Schenerman Logiudice

    My friends mother is catholic,father Jewish.she was never converted yet received basmitvah. Never told rabbi about mother being catholic. Now it’s written she’s a Jew. Unfair to me, my dna says I’m over 50%jew yet not recognized as one n she is yet lied about mother being a catholic. How does one get over by lying n being called a Jew n me ,not? Somethings wrg here n it’s not God it’s human beings!! Answer please.

    Reply
  13. Luis Escobar

    My Great Grandmother (deceased), Grand mother(deceased), father Alive are Jewish. My Grandmother was jewish but never practised. They grew up in a central America. My father was never a religious man but technically threw jewish law he is a Jew. I never met my grandparents. Do i, as a grand-son, qualify for the “law of return”. The government changed our her last name from Norgev or Negev to Nogeira, to have it become more Latin. This happened in the 40’s or 50’s. I am interested in exploring my heritage. If anyone has help or suggestions. It would be greatly appreciated.

    Reply
    • George Vance

      If you have any documentation that your father or paternal grandmother are Jewish (such as synagogue ledgers, pictures of Jewish celebrations, documents from the Jewish community, burial in a Jewish cemetery etc.), so that you can demonstrate your Jewish ancestry, you will be acceptable under Israel’s Law of Return since you would have at least one Jewish grandparent. Note that while this would not make you a Jew from Jewish Religious Law, it is sufficient for Israeli immigration law.

      Reply
  14. Rahela

    My grandmother from my father’s side was ashkenazic jew (she died many years ago ) .Does that mean im a jew? do I qualify for Israeli citizenship ? I have family tree document (all the way up to my grand-grand parents) from the church where I was baptized ( as a catholic ) , although right now I identify as an atheist . What other documents I needs to provide to prove im a jew ?

    Reply
    • George Vance

      From the way that you wrote your comment, it is unclear whether the church document indicates only that your paternal grandmother was “Person X” or whether it also indicates that she was a Jew. If it is the case that she was a Jew (until death) and you have evidence for it, it may be sufficient to make a claim under the Law of Return. You should use any documents that (1) demonstrate that she is your grandmother, (2) any documents or evidence that show that she was and remained a Jew (such as synagogue ledgers or burial in a Jewish cemetery or national census documents – if she lived in a country that denoted Jewish heritage on official documents),

      Reply
  15. Klara Golgota

    Hello, my surname is “Golgota”, can anybody guide how can I make the DNA test due to Law of Return? Thank you

    Reply
  16. david

    you do not have to convert orthodox to immigrate to israel. reform and conservative are accepted. what i read, your conversion has to be accepted by your branches religious authorities in israel. it actually can be harder to be accepted by the orthodox authorities than by the reform or conservatives.

    Reply
  17. Taylor Stewart

    I was wondering if this is only open to Jewish or the other Tribes? I do not know for certain if I am Efriam or other tribe but I know England (United Kingdom) is Efriam the tribe however I know other people being in UK will mean its hard to fully find a persons real tribe my Dad does not know his Dad so its impossible for me to know my Tribe however in my heart of hearts I identify as Efriam my mothers family has been in UK for many Generations we als0o have aparantly Jacobs stone (Stone of Destiny) which the Queen is crowned on who claims she can lead her family to king David so UK has to be part of the Tribes..

    Reply
  18. Cody

    I am Jewish so is my family on my mother’s side. My grandmother immigrated to the US from Israel and I still have family that lives in Israel today. How can I go about obtaining my dual citizenship?

    Reply
  19. Ian Smith Ikowari

    I am from Papua New Guinea is it possible for me to apply for Israel Citizen. I have no Jewish blood line but am very interested to migrate and live permanently in Isareal.

    Reply
  20. Rosalie Rogers

    Is there an age limit to claiming law of return?

    Reply
  21. Jesse

    If I want to get a second citizenship with Israel using the law of return, do I have to move to Israel or can I stay in the USA where I live. Also, do I need to pay Israeli income tax and join the Israeli army, or do I not because I and a resident of the USA. And do I have to go to Israel to complete my application for my citizenship?

    Reply
    • Stasa Momcilovic

      Hello Jesse, thank you for your comment!
      If you are interested you can send us your application and we’ll see how we can help you.
      Here is the link https://nomadcapitalist.com/apply

      Reply
  22. Mekenis Gold

    I have erectile dysfunction. What if I don’t get my flag up during the circumcision? Will I still get converted?

    Reply
  23. Eldar

    Rosalie Rogers, no, there is no age limit. If you’re under 18 you’ll have to come with your parents though.

    Reply
  24. Dave

    My grandparents on my father’s side were Jewish, but my father did not raise me as a Jew (I was circumcised but did not have a Bar Mitzvah, for example). As of 10 years ago I am religiously Catholic. Would I be ineligible for the Law of Return given that I am now a practicing Catholic?

    Reply
  25. Mike

    Who wants to help me to open an Indonesian Restaurant in Israël on Galilee sea beach

    Reply
  26. Carol Adams

    Must one establish residency in Israel after acquiring citizenship through the Law of Return if maintaining a dual citizenship?

    Reply
  27. René

    As a potential oleh would I run the risk of being obliged to do military service in Israel if I applied?

    Reply
  28. Hannah

    I am daughter of a Jew, father. I converted in an orthodox community.
    The Jewish Agency in Rio de Janeiro said that they do not recognize orthodox certificate. And, now? How big desrespect with 3 orthodox Rabbis. I am still here… I sent my certificate to many Rabbis in US, with PhD also, and all said there are nothing wrong with me…no one will do nothing? Is my right. Or be orthodox in Brasil is”persona non grata”?

    Reply
  29. Larry Paul

    Hello,
    Should I marry an Israeli, what process does it require to become a citizen and do I have the option of not becoming a citizen if I chose not to become one?
    Thanks for your response.

    Reply
  30. David Lyon

    Hello, this is a copy of correspondence between myself and the Embassy here in the UK. They argue that although my mother was a mandate citizen from 1928-1948, she was not in Israel in 1952 and does not therefore qualify as Israeli. This is absurd.

    “I should be grateful if you could re-open my case and in particular my request to be classed as an Israeli citizen based on the fact my mother should have been classed an Israeli citizen at the time of my birth in August 1950.
    From the information I previously received from yourselves, it was determined that although:

    a. My mother had lived in Israel/ British Mandate Palestine from 1929 -1949 non-stop (ie after the establishment of the State)

    b. Held an Israeli ID card received further to the establishment of the State and a National Service card (which was presumably issued to citizens). She had exemption from service as she had a child (my brother born in Haifa in 1943).

    She was not considered an Israeli citizen as she had left Israel prior to 1952 to join my British father who was working in Africa where I was born.

    I wish to appeal against this determination on the following grounds:

    1. The Citizenship Law stipulated that a person who immigrated before the establishment of the State under the Law of Return (my mother arrived on 1 July 1928) shall be considered an immigrant from the day of the establishment of the State I(my mother was still living in Israel when the State was established)

    2. The Law indicates that citizenship may be revoked (not will definitely be revoked)if the person in question ceased to be resident before 1952. This law appears to have been introduced to deal with people not entitled to citizenship by the Law of Return but who had been resident during the British Mandate period. My mother was entitled to citizenship by the Law of Return

    3. A person can revoke their citizenship by stating in writing before receiving an immigrant certificate that they did not wish to be an Israeli citizen. I can find no record of my mother having ever relinquished her desire to be an Israeli citizen after the establishment of the State.”

    Is it possible for me to still argue for an Israeli passport based on my mother’s Israeli history.

    Reply
  31. Christopher Benz

    1. If I become an Israeli citizen under the law of return, and live my life outside of israel, are my children born outside of israel automatically israeli citizens, or will they have the choice.
    2. I am 28 and live a nomadic lifestyle, will I have to serve in the military for my citizenship to be granted?
    3. If I do visit the countries that Israel considers enemy states, what is the punishment?

    Reply

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