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Israel’s New Biometrics Law: Will B Visa Holders Finally Get an ID Number?

Over the past few months, the Israeli Parliament and PIBA have completed preparations for a new biometrics law concerning foreign nationals. AIC has actively participated in numerous discussions and has monitored the legislation closely for more than a year. Our focus has been on analyzing how this law will affect international couples, and advocating for their rights. Specifically, we have pushed for the introduction of a universal identification number for non-residents (such as B1 visa holders), that all government offices will recognize and use.

The background to this legislation mostly revolves around the government’s initiative to enhance immigration security measures through biometric identification, but will also facilitate identification in incidents of mass casualties, etc. Under the proposed law, short-term tourists would be automatically photographed upon entry, while longer-term visitors, including B1 holders, would also be required to provide fingerprints as a condition for obtaining the visa. The collected biometrics will then be stored in a database indefinitely. Biometric information of foreigners who gained the status of temporary residents (A5 visa) will be moved to a separate database (which will not be used or accessible) and deleted after five years, whereas data of foreigners who became permanent residents or citizens would be promptly erased upon acquiring residency or citizenship status.

The original version of the legislation included a section that granted PIBA the authority to issue biometric identification cards and identification numbers to foreigners included in the database. However, despite PIBA’s repeated promises over the past year in a different parliamentary committee—which AIC attended and where this issue was raised multiple times—that this problem would be resolved with the biometrics law, PIBA still decided to remove this section from the legislation for unclear reasons, forfeiting this optional authority.

AIC board members Tamar Ohana and Adv. Lior Beres attended two discussions at the interior committee regarding this issue, advocating for the importance of an identification number for partners of Israelis with a B1 visa. AIC has also reached out to the committee and the committee’s legal counsel in preparation for these discussions, and collaborated with MK Matti Sarfati Harkavi of the Yesh Atid party to push for a solution to this issue. Unfortunately, PIBA’s position in the final discussion remained firmly against the introduction of a permanent identification number for foreigners, claiming that they must identify themselves using their passports.

Watch highlights from the discussion on our Facebook Page:

However, the committee’s chairperson, MK Yaacov Asher, intervened after learning that PIBA had previously promised to address the identification number issue within this legislation. After it was concluded that adding an identification number to the biometric database does not require additional legislation, PIBA was compelled to acknowledge, within the committee’s records, that an identification number was indeed meant to be integrated into the biometric database. This move represents a potential breakthrough, although its effectiveness in resolving identification issues faced by foreigners in Israel remains to be seen, as it is still unclear whether other governmental offices will be able to access or use this number, and how.

In addition to addressing the identification number issue, AIC successfully advocated for a distinction between short-term and long-term foreign workers under the legislation. This distinction aims to make bureaucratic processes at the airport and at PIBA offices more efficient, alleviating potential administrative burdens for foreign workers affected by the new regulations (and, consequently, other people who require visa services at PIBA).

In the weeks leading up to the discussion, AIC has received indications from PIBA officials regarding their intention to resolve the issue by assigning a unique identification number to B visa holders in Israel, utilizing the new biometrics database. AIC remains committed to advocating for the implementation of this identification number, ensuring its accessibility across various governmental offices, putting an end to the fake ID fiasco.

AIC was the only human rights organization at the table. Your support enables us to continue speaking up for the rights and needs of international couples in Israel. Help us maintain this activity by making a donation today!

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Adv. Lior Beres
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