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Israel to review visa policy, ease entry for evangelical Christian NGOs

Leaders of the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem want Israeli authorities to find a lasting solution to problems involving work visas for clergy and foreign staff.
Evangelical Christian pilgrims from Hungary march during a parade in celebration of the Jewish holiday of Sukkot (Tabernacles) and to express solidarity with Israel, downtown Jerusalem, September 24, 2013.

Israeli authorities are exploring solutions to enable entry into the country by permanent staff of the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem (ICEJ) and of other evangelical Christian groups supportive of Israel, such as the Bridges for Peace and Christians United for Israel, after years of banning or limiting their entry. This comes amid recent reports of an uptick in visa denials for evangelical clergy.

A spokesperson of the Israel Population and Immigration Authority told Al-Monitor that contacts are ongoing to establish new procedures that would provide their staff members visas more suited to their missions. 

Founded in 1980, the ICEJ unites millions of evangelist Christians supporting the State of Israel and the Jewish people. Its headquarters in Jerusalem consists of a small permanent staff of some 40 men and women. The organization is involved in charity projects for Holocaust survivors and undertakes initiatives to strengthen Israel’s resilience, such as the construction of bomb shelters. It also assists Jews seeking to immigrate to Israel. In parallel, many of its members from around the world travel regularly to Israel as volunteers or as tourists to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles and other Christian holidays in the holy land. 

For the past few years, however, ICEJ has run into difficulties trying to obtain visas for their permanent staff and clergy in Jerusalem. The situation became especially difficult with the outbreak of COVID-19 in 2020, as Israel stopped issuing work visas for ICEJ staffers. Leaders of the group now claim that in recent months, under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government, Israeli authorities have also stopped issuing visas for its clergy. When asked about the change in policy, the Israeli Ministry of Interior said the ICEJ does not meet the requirements to be considered a religious organization. 

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