About 7 years ago, my wife and I won the American green-card lottery and moved to the USA. 5 years later, per the standard waiting period, we received American Citizenship as well. Even before that, it was pretty clear to us that once we become American citizens, we will want to renounce our Israeli Citizenship, and a few days ago, we completed that process. I’m sharing my experience here for the benefit of those who want to do it as well.
Several of our friends and relatives were surprised to hear that we were doing this. Some even took it as some kind of betrayal. Well, everyone has the right to have an opinion, but the main issue is due to the fact that an Israeli Citizen cannot travel out of Israeli without a valid passport. This leads to a string of administrative work that can end up badly in several ways. Here are some of them:
1. That’s 3 extra passports to keep track-of and renew every few years
2. Any travel to Israeli requires carrying a double stack of passports – double the space, double the stuff to safeguard.
3. Common strikes at either the ministry of interior and ministry of foreign affairs jeopardizes the ability to renew passports on time. Example.
4. Spelling means trouble. For example, last year my wife was detained for 2 hours in Israel because our last name is “Benari” on American documents and “Ben-Ari” on Israeli ones.
However, the main reason we did this was the Israeli Army. As you know, being an Israeli citizen includes the mandatory army duty for my son. We would, of course, file the paperwork to dismiss him when he’s at the right age, but this can go wrong in various ways. For example, this horror story about such a mishap is a stark warning of what the “benefit” of citizenship can amount to, as well as this one.
Renouncing the citizenship is, in theory, only a matter of filing a form and paying the fee ($92), but in reality, there are some complexities.
1st, this is one of those asks that require the requestor to visit a consulate in person. For those living close to a consulate, like residents of Boston, LA, NY and other locations, this would not be a big deal. For those living farther, such as me (Seattle), this requires some planning and some major expense. We did a 2-day trip to San Francisco, so that if something didn’t work out on the 1st day, we could come back the next day.
If you were thinking of just taking care of this on your next visit to Israel, this is not actually possible. This sort of request can ONLY be filed abroad. There are over 100 consulate offices world-wide, so with any luck, you can just pick one at a nice destination and have a family-vacation at the same time.
Secondly, if you have children, this can make things more complicated. For kids under age 16, the parents would include the kid in the request. Israeli law requires that any citizen of Israel who has a kid born abroad registers the kid with the Israeli government (which grants the kid citizenship). While this isn’t strictly enforced, this might trip-up the process. If the ministry of internal affairs is aware of the child (***) the consulate staff might refuse to accept your application because you failed to register your child. If, like me, you had to spend hundreds of dollars to go to the consulate, you might want to avoid the risk and register your child before filing the application.
*** I don’t know what info or data the ministry collects regarding citizens, so this is more a case of paranoia than anything else. I suspect that the existence of a child can be flagged somewhere in their computers, and they might become aware of the kid if you travel to Israeli with him
Luckily, you can register the child on the same visit to the consulate. This can be tough, as the consulate requires that you show a birth certificate that has an apostille authentication. That’s not equivalent to the regular stamp or signature that birth certificate have, and would typically require you to specifically ask for it from your local Department of State office (this can take a couple of weeks to get).
By the way, you can download the various forms you need here.
Taking the trip
If getting to the consulate requires a special trip, don’t forget to prepare and take everything with you. You would need:
1. American passports
2. American certificate of citizenship
3. Israeli passports
4. Child’s birth certificate with Apostille authentication
5. Forms for registering the child
6. Forms for renouncing the citizenship for you and spouse, and any kids above 16 YO (no need for kids under 16)
7. Multiple payment forms. The consulate can take a credit card, but I’d advise to bring cash and checks as backup
8. If there has been any name changes in the family, bring supporting paperwork.
Some consulates are busier than others, so try to figure out what lines you’re expecting. Most people who go to the consulate take a while to finish their business, so even if there were only 4 people behind you, you can get stuck for an hour or more.
I would also advise filling up the forms ahead of time, so that you don’t end up missing info, or writing hastily and unclearly on them. I actually loaded the form into Word and filled the details in print, and also brought a few extra copies just in case I spilled coffee on them or something.
Spending time and money getting to the consulate only to find that something is missing or wrong can be very annoying. However, most consulate employees have a very good service attitude and can help work out stuff. For example, when I made my visit, my son’s birth certificate didn’t have an Apostille stamp, but the consulate staff allowed me to get a new one and send it to them via FedEx. This way I was able to complete the process without having to travel again. If you run into a hiccup, try to think positively, and work with the consulate staff with the “what would it take to do this” approach rather than getting angry and confrontational.
Another hiccup I ran into was that the ministry of internal affairs needed a proof of foreign citizenship for all 3 of us. We did give ours during filing, but the consulate forgot to get our son’s, so after 3 months of considering the request, the consulate contacted us and asked us to send over a passport copy for the kid. You can avoid this delay by making sure you’re giving the consulate all the paperwork they might need, if they fail to ask for some.
After the trip
Once the paperwork is filed by the consulate, the ministry of internal affairs needs to review and approve the request, and each request is personally signed by the Minister. This means that it takes about 2-3 months for this to go-through, and you will be notified by the consulate (not directly by the ministry) about the results. Assuming the request is approved, the consulate will call you personally and ask you to send them your passports and Israeli ID cards. Once they receive your passports and IDs, they will mail you back a document confirming your status. This last step can take another month. For us, the whole process from setting foot in the consulate to getting the final certificate took 5 months.
The document you receive will be a standard Israeli ministry of internal affairs blue paper, saying that your citizenship has been revoked, plus a second page showing any kids who were part of it. You will receive 2 copies per person, and they look like this:
As you can see, the document clearly states that you need to display this paper when entering or leaving Israel. It is unclear to me whether the border-patrol computers will ever be updated with my status. A relative of mine says he needs to show the paper every time, even though it’s been 30 years since his citizenship was revoked. Upon my next visits to Israel, I’ll update this if I have more information.
I want it back!
So what if, after a few years, you suddenly have a change of hearts and want your citizenship back? Well, I’m not familiar with anyone who has done this, so the following is speculation, but the law of return specifically says that any Jew has the right to receive an immigrant Visa, with the only exceptions being if the person has acted against the Jewish people, or is a danger to the public or the state. That means that if you ever change your mind, you should be able to go back to Israel, get citizenship and even receive the benefits of a returning resident (תושב חוזר). Whether the ministry of internal affairs recognizes your special circumstances and give you a hard time is anybody’s guess. I believe that they won’t, and even if they did, this wouldn’t prevent you from visiting, living and working in Israel. The law says that you would need to apply for a Visa for those things, but I’m being told that beyond border patrol, this is rarely actually enforced.