04/13/2004, 00.00
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Israeli Commission searching for solution regarding visas for religious personnel


Vatican City (AsiaNews) – There will soon be a solution to the problem regarding visas for foreign religious personnel serving in Israel.

The Israeli Embassy to the Holy See sent an official note to AsiaNews in which it said "Directors and workers of various ministries... together with Israel's Ambassador to the Holy See have pointed out the need to resolve shortly this complex and delicate situation." The statement says "immediately after Easter procedures will be sped up to unfreeze the pile of (idle) paperwork."   

The news released some weeks ago by AsiaNews reported the difficulties male and female Catholic religious personnel experienced who, after years living in Israel, are now being treated like "illegal immigrants". This is so on account of their visa renewal requests not being taken into consideration by Israel's Interior Ministry.    

The Israel embassy statement specifies that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon himself had called for the formation of an "Inter-Ministerial Commission" to "review criteria, rules and necessary timelines… as well as  the whole bureaucratic process" that led to delays in issuing the visas.  

The Inter-Ministerial Commission includes representatives from the ministries of Foreign Affairs, the Interior, Justice and Tourism. The Commission had met on various occasions last February.

The Commission's conclusions have now been released to various ministries.

The last meeting took place on April 5 at the Ministry of the Interior. Discussed at the meeting was the new procedure which includes reducing bureaucratic procedures, shortening security checks, revising visa categories (such as for priests, volunteers, temporary workers, scholarship study abroad holders, etc.). For religious who have lived a while in Israel 'there will be a suitable status found permitting their stay" in the country.    

The Israeli Ambassador to the Holy See, Oded Ben Hur, assured to AsiaNews that the change in procedure will bear its effects "within 7-10 days".

The embassy's note stresses "the great importance" the Israeli government gives to "strengthening good relations between Israel and the Christian world, particularly with Catholics and the Holy See." The note also says that "the Apostolic Nuncio in Israel will be updated on every decision made and discussed concerning visas".

When commenting on the note Church sources in Jerusalem told AsiaNews, "We hope this time the promises –repeated so many times over the last two years –will really be kept."

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