Thursday, July 31, 2014

Visa-on-Arrival Experience in Israel Ben Gurion Airport

fearless face-off on the World's most strict airport immigration security
02 November 2013 Saturday

As of 2013, Israel no longer stamp passports when arriving at Ben Gurion Airport. Instead, they give you a slip the size of a credit card, which act as your visa. When you leave the country you must present the slip as your proof of entry, so do not lose it! This makes it unnecessary to ask Ben Gurion staff not to stamp your passport - and, in fact, if you ask, it may lead to some suspicion on their part. Security is extremely stringent at Ben-Gurion Airport, and is especially suspicious of travelers with Muslim names or visas from Islamic countries in their passports. Expect to be stopped and questioned for several hours both on the way in and on the way out.

1st encounter with Immigration Security Officer;

I boarded from Rome Airport at Easy Jet Airline on afternoon flight. Upon touchdown and stepping on the 1st escalator, roaming passport control officer immediately asked me immigration-related questions that lasted around 5mins. This includes the following;
- what will you do in Israel?
- how long will you stay? Why 1 week only?
- what places will you visit?
- where will you stay?
- why are you traveling alone?
- what is your work, where? How long have you been working there?
- where do you live? Where is your family?
- do you know anybody in Israel right now? Sure?
- why you visit Israel just now?
- (seeing some visas to other countries) so you travel also on this country on holiday also? Why you travel a lot?
- what did you do in Lebanon & Egypt? Do you know someone there? Why traveling this countries separately?

Israel stay permit visa card (front)

Israel stay permit visa card (back)

outside Ben Gurion International Airport

2nd encounter with Immigration Security Officer;
After around 10 minutes, at the passport control lane, Immigration Officer keep asking again exact same questions as mentioned above. Interrogation and passport check lasted for about 5 minutes also. Same response as what I did in the first, no pretentions. I said everything as I intended to do.

3rd encounter with Immigration Security Officer;
Immigration Officer on the 2nd encounter requested me to go with her for some security check, I will be put on hold in an isolated room just nearby. Waited for almost 30 minutes, another Immigration Officer asked me again the same exact set of questions mentioned in my 1st and 2nd encounter. Though at first I feel really excited and nervous, on this 3rd panel, I almost lose my temper and felt annoyed. When she asked me what's my itinerary and what will I do to Caesarea (one of the places I mentioned), I immediately replied with a little bit of high tone, 'of course, to take pictures'. She followed by saying I know you will take pictures, momentarily stunned as if surprise expecting that I respond in different way. That then she start typing something on her PC. We both knew that I am annoyed and tired by this repetitive process. By the way, I saw other travelers (more than 5, all westerners) they only been asked once. Finally, upon handing over the stay permit, I told them "Thanks so much". I sat on the bench outside to relax myself from this somehow a little bit traumatized moment. 

inside the train bound to Tel-Aviv coming from Ben Gurion Airport

sightseeing that street names while walking at night

Immigration Officers did not ask "who packed your baggage?" and "what is your religion?" which was experience by other travelers. In addition, Immigration Officers did not ask me hard-copy proofs of my itinerary, confirmed hostel booking, flight ticket outbound, pocket money or confirmed travel tour despite of the repetitive queries (though I have them all in my bag, I did not initiated to show it). I showed my company identification card only once as requested by the 1st interrogator.

I expected my very recent visa in Japan (June 2013) and Central Europe (Oct 2013) will matter to expedite the immigration process. To my surprise, my work visa in Saudi Arabia (2011) and Kuwait (present) did not affect the interrogation process. What did matters most in line of interrogation are the recent visit visas in Lebanon (May 2012), UAE (Apr. 2012) and Egypt (Oct. 2012).

I think the database shared internationally is only criminal records and NOT the countries we have visited. This means all middle-east based travelers can go whenever and how often they want (like me). According to one passenger, there was a VIP visa that allows passenger to skip the interrogation process for $150 per pax. She availed this with her family but her airline inbound was El Al, flag carrier of Israel. I think this treatment applies only for dignitaries, known businessmen or a real VIP per se.

I think the purpose of their extensive interrogation are as follows;
1. To ensure you will not be a threat to their peace & order
2. To ensure you will not look for a job or be supported with someone you know inside
3. To ensure consistency and truthfulness on every words you say
4. To ensure you dont have any Arab blood or relation to them biologically & spiritually

City of David

City of David

Garden tomb of Jesus Christ

Garden tomb of Jesus Christ

self-guided walking navigation to Dead Sea public beach

As for conclusion, we are just their foreign unknown visitors, they can do whatever they like. For the fact that their country is surrounded by their political & religious enemies, and the disputes they are continuously facing throughout the history, they deserve to be strict on however ways they want to. Maybe the following factors affect my status why I was under extensive interrogation by three Immigration Officers with almost exactly the same sets of questions.
1. I  was a solo backpacker
2. I am a Filipino
3. My passport has 5 blank pages remaining only.
4. 1st time in Israel
5. They think I have a doubtful capability to travel on vacation.  

If you think this arrival process is the difficult part of their airport security control and I can relax afterwards, you got it absolutely wrong. ALL TRAVELERS confide that the hardest part is departing Ben Gurion Airport regardless of airline and outbound destination. I am not scaring everyone, it's the truth especially for a 1st time visitor solo backpacker. 

1 comment:

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