Database of foreign workers aims to prevent deportations

After the database is complete the workers will be given assistance in finding new jobs through private employment agencies.

March 8, 2010 22:11
4 minute read.
oz unit inspector 248.88

oz unit inspector 248.88. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

The Interior Ministry is calling on all foreign workers in the care-giving sector to sign up for a new job database that it is now launching, that will enable unemployed workers to find new jobs and provide some workers with an option to regain their legal status here.

The database is to begin operation in June.

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“The database has two main aims,” said Moshe Nakash, head of the care-giving sector in the Population, Immigration and Borders Authority. “The first is to reduce the number of new workers imported from abroad and the second is to regulate the status of the workers who are here.”

During the buildup stage, until the end of May all foreign workers who entered Israel with a permit to work in the care-giving sector, have been in the country for less than 50 months and have lost the jobs they were originally recruited for will be eligible to register themselves in the database.

After the database is complete the workers will be given assistance in finding new jobs through private employment agencies.

“Workers will be given 90 days to find new jobs. If they are successful, their permits will continue to be valid. If not, their permits will expire and they will be subject to arrest and expulsion,” unless they leave the country, said Nakash.

Workers-rights organizations and other groups who advocate on behalf of foreign workers have long criticized the lack of regulation on the number of workers in the care-giving sector.

Unlike the other sectors where foreign workers are employed – construction and agriculture – there are no quotas on the number of workers who may enter the country to work as caregivers. High commission fees charged by employment agencies are an incentive to bring in new workers instead of trying to reassign the unemployed ones  already in the country.

The practice is known as the “revolving door,” because until now, unemployed workers with permits were still deemed “illegal” once their employment ended – if the client died, for example – and were often subject to deportation.

“We tried to build a similar database last year and I can only say, it didn’t go well. The employment agencies claim that they have to bring in new workers because they have no way to find workers who are in the country. We hope that this database will fix that,” said Nakash.

Hanny Ben-Israel, the person in charge of the care-giving sector at Kav La’oved, a worker’s right organization, said that the database would only be effective if at the same time, the government would cease permitting employment agencies to bring in new workers.

“If indeed the database will function this time and the employment agencies won’t be permitted to continue importing new workers, we cannot overestimate the importance of the move,” she said.

Ben-Israel said that as long as their privacy rights were protected, foreign workers would likely jump at the chance of registering with the database.

“These people purchased their right to work here at a heavy expense and desperately want to work. The system that was in place up until now failed them to a large extent and left many people in serious debt,” she said.

Ben-Israel explained that commission fees charged by employment agencies ranged from $6,000-$13,000 and that many workers had to pay high interest rates above that.

“Many people have been deported from the country with thousands of dollars of debts, because they were not able to find a [new] job. We hope this move will prevent that from happening any more,” she said.

The database is also expected to make life easier for the people who use care-givers. Instead of waiting for weeks or months to have a new worker brought in from the Philippines or Nepal, they can now hire caregivers who are already here.

Ben-Israel believed there would be fierce resistance to the move on the part of the employment agencies.

“They stand to lose a substantial source of income because of the database. I just hope the government can withstand their pressures,” she said.

“The decision is a game-changer. The employment agencies must understand that they have a commitment to the foreign workers who are here and can no longer continue profiting off the commission fees they charge and forgetting about the workers.”

In related news, the Knesset Foreign Workers Committee called on the government to freeze existing quotas for workers in the construction industry until a solution to labor shortages are found.

Committee Chairman Ya’acov Katz called on the Interior and Industry, Trade and Labor ministers to stop expelling workers whose permits have expired, because they are needed in the construction industry.

Unlike in the care-giving sector, in the construction sector there are strict quotas on the numbers of workers permitted, a number that is meant to be reduced every year.

Katz said that foreign workers, who usually perform the tasks that are referred to as “wet jobs,” like plastering and tiling, are in high demand and that in absence of Israelis who are willing and trained to do the jobs, cuts to the quotas could lead to higher housing costs.

A few weeks ago it was the farmers who complained of a lack of foreign workers. People in the agriculture sector said the foreign workers, mostly migrants from Thailand, were necessary to help see through the harvests and even threatened to sue the government for refusing to bring in new workers.

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