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Orange list travel still poses heaps of red tape for Saffers



South African olim and their families last week welcomed the news that Israel had downgraded South Africa to its “orange list” of countries. Though it eases travel from the Jewish state, it still poses complicated restrictions for South Africans wanting to go there.

“I’m thrilled that everyone is excited about the possibility of coming to Israel,” says former MK Dov Lipman, whose organisation Yad L’Olim, assists olim with all kinds of bureaucracy. He has been at the forefront of dealing with the changing travel restrictions.

“We have been lobbying for safe travel from South Africa for quite a while. I do want to caution everyone to reduce their expectations. The authorities are overwhelmed by the numbers of applications – some receive approvals very quickly, others wait weeks, and some have had to even cancel or postpone their flights. We’ll do what we can to help you, but understand that it’s not always simple or straightforward.

“People need to understand that Israel isn’t open for tourists,” says Kim Kur, who runs the Facebook group Community Circle Home SA, a resource for South African expats and travellers. “Israel still needs to protect her borders. The Iron Dome protects her from enemy fire, and these restrictions protect her from a deadly virus. We can’t pick and choose when Israel has a right to defend herself.”

So how can you get to Israel? Those that can enter without approval and without vaccination are Israeli citizens and certain visa holders (A Class Visa Holders [A1-A5] and B1 and B4 visa holders who hold a multiple-entry visa [it says m/ר on it]). “This doesn’t apply to those travelling from countries deemed ‘red’ by Israel,” says Kur.

If South Africans are vaccinated, they can apply to travel to Israel if they are a first-degree relative of a registered Israeli citizen. A first-degree relative means a spouse, parent, child, or sibling. “So, if the child is on a gap year, the parent cannot visit because the child isn’t an Israeli citizen,” Kur says.

They can apply for a second-degree relative to come with a first-degree relative if required – for example a dependant or child that cannot be left alone back in South Africa. But this is a separate application and approval isn’t guaranteed. Grandparents can come for the birth of a grandchild even if the new parents aren’t Israeli citizens.

The only time that unvaccinated South Africans may be allowed in is for a wedding (parents only), a funeral (for only 24 hours), for a family emergency, or if they are a first-degree relatives of a lone soldier.

“All approvals given will be for 30 days,” Lipman says. “Therefore, apply within 30 days of the flight – the earlier the better.”

He says all passengers entering Israel must take a PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test 72 hours prior to boarding the flight. Their passport number appears on the test results. Passengers must show the negative test result at check in. Passengers with no valid PCR test won’t be allowed to board the flight.

They must also fill out and print an entry declaration for each person travelling.

“If you are entering Israel from an orange or red country, you must quarantine for 14 days. This can be reduced to seven days with a negative PCR test upon arrival and on day seven,” he says.

Kur says that you will need to provide an “isolation affidavit” and show that your insurance covers COVID-19. The isolation affidavit says that you will be able to isolate effectively. This can be in any accommodation – even with family – as long as you have your own separate bedroom and bathroom and can completely isolate. And they will check!”

Asked if, for example, a grandparent could travel to Israel from South Africa for a grandchild’s Barmitzvah, both experts say it’s unlikely. “They’re not allowed to come because of the Barmitzvah, but they’re allowed to come if they are visiting a first-degree relative who is the parent of the Barmitzvah boy,” says Lipman. “There’s no allowance to come for a Barmitzvah. There’s an allowance for parents to visit their children who may be holding a Barmitzvah for their child.”

Kur’s tips for those applying are to apply 30 days before, and allow sufficient time due to the backlog. “Exactly 30 days before, book your ticket. In theory, you don’t have to book a ticket, but we recommend you do. It shows intent and an actual date. When buying your ticket, pay the little bit extra to move or cancel it if needed. And this isn’t the time to do your booking yourself. This is the time for reaching out to travel agents who know Israel and fully understand the rules.

“It’s not easy, and it’s a waiting game. There’s a long list of people applying,” says Kur. “Furthermore, anybody who applied before 16 August must reapply. That application is no longer valid and will be processed as if we are still a red country. Approvals before 16 August are null and void. There’s not much that can be done to speed up the process. But if you are having problems, reach out for help.”

She also advises that in the comments section of applications, clearly write your name and the reason for travel. “Spell it out, as it makes it easier for them on the other side. Also, make sure your PDFs are small. Don’t send huge documents as they might not get through. There are websites you can use to make PDFs smaller.”

Then, “the passport number you travel with must match the application form. If they have already replied and need additional information, put the letter ‘P’ before your passport number to reapply. If you haven’t heard back, don’t reapply – it adds to the backlog,” she says.

Asked if families should rather bring relatives out from Israel to visit them in South Africa, Kur says it’s better not to if the person in Israel isn’t a citizen as they may have trouble getting back in.

Lipman emphasises that anyone applying to travel to Israel must “please make sure your documents are okay. Problems with documents are the number-one cause for not receiving approval, and the authorities won’t necessarily notify you about this. Yad L’Olim is available to review your documents for you to make sure they are in order. Email, and we will guide you how to do that.”

Apply via the foreign ministry or the interior ministry. The links are available on the Community Circle Home SA Facebook page or the Yad L’Olim website or Facebook page.

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