There are at least 100,000 foreigners illegally employed in Israel, a new
Knesset Research and Information Center study, released Sunday,
The actual number of illegal foreign workers is probably much
higher, but the lack of accurate information makes it impossible to identify
them, the report notes.
The report also pointed to the Oz immigration
enforcement unit’s failure to meet their annual targets for deporting illegal
residents, reaching barely 11 percent of its yearly quota.
foreign nationals to work in at specific jobs for which there is a shortage of
Israelis willing or able to do the work. These sectors are construction,
agriculture, elder care and ethnic restaurants, and as of December 2010, there
were roughly 76,000 non-Israelis (excluding Palestinians) working in these
However there are a large number of foreigners employed illegally
in other sectors. The Knesset report attempted to map out the illegal-worker
population to find out how they affected the local job market, and proposed ways
in which to alleviate the problem.
According to the report, the largest
group of illegal foreign workers entered Israel under a tourist visa and stayed
on to work after their visas expired.
At the end of 2010 there were
101,500 people in the country whose tourist visas had expired, a number that has
remained relatively constant since the early 2000s, with a 20% fluctuation in
The report stated that professionals in the Interior or
Industry, Trade and Labor ministries estimated that a majority of them had
stayed on to work.
According to Population Immigration and Borders
Authority (PIBA) statistics, over 40% of the people who overstayed their tourist
visas were from the former Soviet Union, 9% were from Jordan and 6% of them from
Mexico. Other countries that had substantial numbers of illegal workers here
(above 3,000 people) are Columbia, Turkey, Romania, Brazil and Nepal.
second major group of illegal workers entered Israel with a work permit allowing
them to work in one of the authorized fields, but either overstayed the 63
months permitted to them, or left their assigned workplace and began working
illegally, either in another sector, such as housecleaning, or for a different
employer. According to PIBA, there are roughly 13,000 such people currently
working in the country.
According to the Knesset report, as of December
15, 2010, there were 31,840 African migrants who crossed over the Egyptian
A majority of them are recognized as asylum seekers and
carry a 2 Aleph 5 type visa.
“Unlike foreign workers who enter the
country with a specific permit allowing them to work, carriers of 2 Aleph 5
visas are not employed under a particular quota and their employment is not
necessarily reported to the tax authorities or the National Insurance
Since they are not entitled to subsistence benefits from the
state, the assumption is that they all work for a living,” read the
While their visa does not permit them to work, Israel has been
loath to take enforcement measures against their employers for fear of creating
a humanitarian crisis. The cabinet has decided that they would only begin
enforcement in six months once the construction of a holding facility, which
will provide the migrants with an alternative source of subsistence, is
The report stated that based on partial information gleaned
from National Insurance Institute figures, it was clear that there is a negative
correlation between the number of foreigners working without work permits in the
hospitality industry and the number of Israelis joining the industry. It also
pointed to a similar correlation in the services sector and in employment by
From tax figures the study found that while employers
reported a total of 100,000 foreign workers, only 40,000 of them were employed
in sectors for which permits are approved.
“From this we can surmise that
60,000 foreign national are working in non-permitted fields,” read the
The report suggested several ways to reduce the number of
foreigners working without permits. One of the ways suggested was to employ
African migrants under quotas authorized for foreign workers in the permitted
According to the report, the move would necessitate a degree of
job training and issuing of work permits, but would also solve some of the
practices currently found in the field, like the charging of exorbitant
commission fees from foreign workers wishing to work in Israel and the
“revolving door policy,” in which workers are deported so that new ones can
enter the market.
The drawbacks, according to the report, are the
additional incentive this would provide for additional migrants to attempt to
enter the country and opposition from parties who benefit from the current
Regarding the substantial population of illegal foreign workers
who are in the country under expired visas, the report stated that it was the
mandate of PIBA and its Oz unit to deport all illegal residents. In August 2008
the cabinet determined that by the end of 2013 all illegal residents must be
deported, setting ambitious quotas for every year.
According to Knesset
figures, PIBA has repeatedly failed to meet the quotas. In 2009, for instance,
20,000 people were supposed to be deported when in practice only 1,261 left the
country. In 2010 the numbers were slightly better with Oz managing to deport
2,498 people, but still succeeding in reaching only 11% of its 22,000-people
On Monday, the Knesset subcommittee on foreign workers met to
debate the effect of illegal foreign workers on the Israeli job market and
enforcement measures taken against the phenomenon.
In an interview with
The Jerusalem Post, MK Ya’acov Katz (National Union), chairman of the Knesset
Committee on Foreign Workers, said that he saw the African migrants as the most
significant challenge facing Israel.
Katz said that while the number of
illegal foreign workers has remained roughly the same for a decade, the number
of African migrants was constantly growing. He said that with decisive action,
the foreign worker problem could be solved in a short time, but that when it
came to the “infiltrators” Israel had to open its eyes to the
“Whereas the foreign workers all have passports and are citizens
of countries that Israel has formal relations with, countries that we can deport
them to, the African migrants are invisible.
We don’t know where they
come from, we don’t know if we can ever return them, we don’t know precisely how
many of them there are and the government is doing very little to face the
challenge,” Katz said.
“Israel has taken defensive measures and is
building a fence and will soon build holding centers, but I’d like to see
offensive action by the government.”
PIBA said in response that for the
past few months it was working intensively to create a new database so as to
avoid guesses regarding the numbers of illegal foreign workers.
conducting enforcement against illegal workers no matter which visa they entered
the country with. The fact that a foreign national continues to reside in Israel
after his or her visa expires is against the law, whether they entered under a
tourist or work visa.
“The quotas on deportation of illegal workers were
set by the government in 2008, before the responsibility for enforcement was
transferred to PIBA.
That said, it is important to note that since PIBA
took over responsibility for enforcement, the reduction of the number of illegal
residents has been reduced using several channels, including deportation,
voluntary deportation and status determination. The entire issue is currently
being examined in light of the current realities,” the response read.