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Cablegate: Religious Workers Face Visa Denials

VZCZCXYZ0002
OO RUEHWEB

DE RUEHJM #4632/01 3001511
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 271511Z OCT 06
FM AMCONSUL JERUSALEM
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 5560
INFO RUEHXK/ARAB ISRAELI COLLECTIVE PRIORITY

UNCLAS JERUSALEM 004632

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

NEA FOR FRONT OFFICE; NEA/IPA FOR
WILLIAMS/SHAMPAINE/STEINGER

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PGOV KPAO KWBG KPAL IS
SUBJECT: RELIGIOUS WORKERS FACE VISA DENIALS

REF: A. JERUSALEM 4511

B. JERUSALEM 4472

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: American religious workers from Christian
organizations in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza are
finding it increasingly difficult to obtain visas from the
Government of Israel (GOI). Of those issuQ visas, many
receive only a 3-month tourist visa or a one-year
&humanitarian worker8 visa. END SUMMARY

2. (SBU) American religious workers, representing a variety
of Christian denominations, are finding it increasingly
difficult to obtain or renew visas to work in Jerusalem, Gaza
or the West Bank, a problem shared with Palestinian-Americans
from all aspects of society. Many are faced with leaving the
country every three months because they were issued only a
tourist visa, and some of those who leave are denied re-entry
or given only one-week visas. In general, these workers have
employment contracts with recognized churches and religious
organizations.

3. (SBU) Foreign Christian religious workers in Jerusalem,
Gaza and the West Bank comprise four broad categories: staff
of churches recognized by Jordan prior to the 1967 war; staff
of churches or religious organizations defined by the GOI as
&evangelic8; staff of churches not defined as &evangelic8
and not recognized prior to 1967; and volunteers. The second
category of foreign religious workers often register as
humanitarian NGO staff.

4. (SBU) Americans working for churches that were recognized
by Jordan before 1967 are eligible to apply for a one-year
renewable religious visa. These churches include all of the
Orthodox churches, such as the Armenian Apostolic, Greek
Orthodox, Coptic Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox, and Ethiopian
Orthodox, as well as Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans,
Mennonites and Quakers.

5. (SBU) A second category includes organizations defined by
the GOI as "evangelic." According to Hanan Nasrallah, Senior
Administrative Officer with Catholic Relief Services, these
organizations include the U.S. based NGO's World Vision and
Catholic Relief Services (CRS). They must register as
humanitarian NGOs rather than as religious organizations
regardless of whether they were recognized prior to 1967.
She said staff may apply for one-year NGO visas with this
registration. (Note: A 1977 Israeli law prohibits any person
from offering or receiving material benefits as an inducement
to conversion or from proselytizing to minors. End note.)
According to Rev. Mark Brown, the regional representative for
Lutheran World Federation, both World Vision and CRS have
recently been subjected to a five-year limit on renewals to
these visas, and Nasrallah confirmed that one CRS employee
had recently been denied renewal of his visa.

6. (SBU) Americans working for churches and religious
organizations that are neither identified by the GOI as
evangelic nor were recognized by Jordan prior to 1967,
including Methodists, Presbyterians, and Baptists, are not
eligible for any type of work visa, according to Dr. Cathy
Nichols, a member of mission personnel with Sabeel, the
Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem. Instead,
Nichols said, these Americans receive single-entry,
three-month tourist visas and must leave the country every
three months and risk not being readmitted, regardless of
their employment contracts. (Note: Those in this category who
register with the Ministry of Social Affairs are
theoretically allowed to convert their tourist visas to work
visas once they are in country, but are rarely allowed to do
so. End note.) Nichols has worked with Sabeel for the past
five years, entering and leaving every three months on a
tourist visa. (Note: Nichols is married to an Israeli and
could receive legal permanent status here, but would then be
prohibited from working in the West Bank. End note.)

7. (SBU) Volunteers receive a one-time option of a six-month
volunteer visa and then are prohibited from ever volunteering
again. Nichols said most churches advise their volunteers not
to say they are volunteers when they enter the country.

8. (SBU) ConGen Jerusalem has received various reports of
American religious workers being denied even the types of
visas they are eligible. Last month, two representatives to
Jerusalem for the American Friends Service Committee (the
Quakers), who are permitted to apply for religious visas,
were given one-week visas despite their stated intention of
working several years in Jerusalem. An employee with a
two-year contract to Global Ministries similarly received
only a one-week visa rather than a three-month tourist visa.
Brown said that while he receives the one-year religious visa
with multiple entries, his wife and children are given
single-entry visas, meaning they must reapply and pay each
time they leave the country and return. The associate pastor
of Christmas Church in Bethlehem was recently denied a visa
altogether, and the representative for the Presbyterians in
Bethlehem rents space from CRS in order to obtain a one-year
humanitarian NGO work visa under CRS auspices.

9. (SBU) Note: The USG issues to religious workers from
Israel, the West Bank and Gaza R1 visas, which are valid for
five years and multiple entries and may be renewed.
Dependents of those on R1 visas receive an R2 visa, which is
also renewable and valid for five years with multiple
entries. The refusal rate for such visas is extremely low,
with ConGen Jerusalem issuing 96 of the 102 R1 visas applied
for in 2005 and 104 of the 108 applied for so far in 2006.
End note.

10. (SBU) Post is requesting that all Americans who have been
denied or given limited entry into the country register with
the ConGen so that information can be shared with the
Department and Embassy Tel Aviv.

DUFFY

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