Visas Become Concern for Christian Workers in Israel

( [email protected] ) May 04, 2004 05:40 PM EDT

In Israel, Christian workers are facing a dilemma, as many visa renewals are being delayed or extended for shorter periods of time. Until recently, receiving a visa to serve as a Christian worker in the country was met with little difficulty, but recently this has changed.

Prior to the recent changes, published official documents said that a clergy (A3) visa might be issued to those officially serving in Christian institutions. This included a wide spectrum of Christian personnel, such as pastors, administrators, priests, nuns, and specialized laypeople, according to the Voice of the Martyrs. Also, normally visas could be renewed for one or two years. However, now many visa renewals are being delayed or extended for only a few months.

According to the Middle East Concern (MEC), a coalition of Christians in the Middle East and North Africa, the dilemma that Christian workers face now is they are forced to either stay, which means being an illegal alien, or to leave, which means facing the possibility of arrest at the airport or being refused future admission to the country.

This unfavorable obstacle may threaten the progress of developing churches since there is currently no equivalent visa, and many groups and church personnel are not being offered appropriate visas. These problems have already affected various ministries in the country.

The United Christian Council in Israel (UCCI), a member of the World Evangelical Alliance, reported that the only ones being allowed visa renewals are pastors with at least five hundred members in their church. This news has brought in great concern because the works of many smaller ministries have been greatly affected. The Voice of Martyrs reports that the Roman Catholic Church and Orthodox Church have also faced similar problems.

Christians are praying for the speedy resolution to the current difficulties and they will not adversely affect the Christian ministries in Israel. The UCCI and the Ministry of Internal Affairs will be meeting this week to discuss the current situation.