Crackdown on illegal foreign workers also targets employers

Month-long Interior Ministry campaign to levy fines of up to NIS 5,000 per violation.

June 29, 2010 05:24
4 minute read.
Oz unit members search for foreigners who have ent

oz unit inspector 311. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

The Population, Immigration and Borders Authority (PIBA) on Monday began a month long crackdown on Israeli companies and individuals employing illegal foreign workers.

During the campaign, 150 officials from various Interior Ministry units charged with locating, identifying and prosecuting offenders will be conducting surprise inspections of businesses and homes in an effort to track down illegal workers and take legal action against their employers.

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After an extensive morning briefing on Monday, 18 teams made up of inspectors and intelligence officers from the ministry’s Oz unit, as well as PIBA Visa and Aliens Department officials and agents from PIBA’s Special Assignments unit, spread out across the country in search of offenders.

The Jerusalem Post accompanied a team checking businesses in Tel Aviv.

The first stop was a coffee shop on Weizmann Street. The unit had intelligence that it was using foreign workers and wanted to see if their employment was legal.

Accompanied by reporters and photographers, the team entered the restaurant and immediately identified three suspected foreign workers.

While the plain-clothed PIBA officials asked to speak to the manager, the black-clad Oz inspectors escorted the three men outside and requested to see their work permits.

Baruch Ash, from PIBA’s Visa and Aliens department, explained that apart from a handful of Asian workers who were specifically permitted to work at ethnic restaurants, it was generally illegal for foreign workers to be employed in the restaurant sector.

Upon closer inspection it was determined that the three men were not foreign workers at all, but Eritrean nationals who had arrived in Israel a year ago and were carrying so-called “limited- release” visas. They were members of a growing population of migrants who illegally cross the Egyptian border but, because of international obligations and human rights concerns, cannot be deported.

While it is formally forbidden for them to work, the state turns a blind eye to their employment out of an understanding that they have to support themselves.

After a thorough inspection of their papers, the men were allowed to return to their jobs at the coffee shop.

In the meantime, members of the PIBA Special Assignments unit questioned the manager to make sure the workers were being treated according to the law, which, as with any worker, demands that they be paid at least minimum wage and provided with medical insurance. The manager showed the officials the required documents, and the team moved on.

One of the officials told the Post that if the workers had been illegal or any of the employment requirements not been met, the unit had authority to fine the business up to NIS 5,000 per violation, multiplied by the number of workers.

He said that he had once fined a business NIS 500,000 for employing 17 illegal workers and failing to meet a long list of employment conditions.

At a coffee shop and bakery on Ibn Gvirol Street, the unit once more failed to find any illegal foreign workers. It did, however, identify a Nigerian asylum seeker who was working at the restaurant on a parttime basis. Like the three Eritreans, the Nigerian man was also safe from prosecution because of his special status – his papers revealed that he had entered Israel on a tourist visa and, once in the country, approached the United Nations to ask for asylum, claiming political persecution in his home country.

While waiting to go before a Refugee Status Determination committee, he was legally permitted to work.

At the third stop, a car wash on Yigal Alon Street, men the intelligence unit suspected of being foreign workers turned out to be Israeli citizens from the Beduin city of Rahat. The unit quickly left after inspecting their blue identification cards.

The fourth and fifth stops – Sushi restaurants in southern Tel Aviv – likewise proved to be “kosher,” with one having no foreign workers and the other holding permits to employ the three Chinese nationals working as chefs.

After that, the team called it a day.

While the officials in Tel Aviv had nothing to show for their efforts, other teams had more success. The tally issued by PIBA reported that a total of 38 homes and businesses had been inspected, yielding 14 suspected violations, including an Indian national being employed as a housekeeper in the home of a well-known Israeli model.

PIBA spokeswoman Sabine Hadad said the enforcement campaign would be continuing over the entire month of July and would be accompanied by a media campaign aimed at educating the public of the legal risks entailed in the employment of foreign workers.

According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, Israel currently has some 70,000 legal foreign workers and 150,000 who are considered to be in the country illegally. Legal foreign workers are restricted to employment in construction, agriculture, care-giving and ethnic restaurants. Special permits are issued to people considered to be experts in their field for cases in which there is insufficient manpower in Israel.

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