Virtually every shopping mall in the United States has them: young men or women with a Middle Eastern accent hocking Dead Sea skin care products or assorted knick-knacks at an exorbitant mark-up. These salesmen work 12-15 hours day after day to save money for their postarmy jaunts to South America or the Far East. With the overwhelming majority of them suspected of working illegally in the States, the US Embassy in Tel Aviv put out a video this week warning Israelis about the consequences of working in the US without the proper documents.
“We did an earlier version of the video, which was very popular and helped us get our message out to the Israeli public that it’s not legal to work without a work visa and we thought a more comprehensive video would give people more information to decide whether to follow the advice of the recruiters or follow our advice about visiting the United States,” Andrew Parker, consul general of the US Embassy in Tel Aviv told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.
Parker also said the embassy has sent representatives to postarmy job fairs to advise recently discharged soldiers about the consequences of defrauding US immigration and labor officials.
The video shows testimonials of Israelis who were caught working in the States without proper work visas and relating the legal problems they faced. They also describe how they were duped by recruiters in Israel and business owners in the States, who told them that they shouldn’t worry about not having the proper visa, or told them just to come on a tourist visa and they would acquire a work visa for them at a later date. The video tells viewers that US border officials are well-coached on how to root out those who are lying about the purpose of their visit to America and that “the price is too high” if one is caught.RELATED:
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The consequences for Israelis who are caught illegally working can be severe. Parker said Thursday that “if you are turned around, you can get banned for typically 5 years. If you misrepresent yourself in your interview at the port of entry or during your visa interview in Israel, you can be barred for life from visiting the United States and then the only way you can ever go is to get a waiver from the Department of Homeland Security, which is a hassle to say the least.”
Though he said he doesn’t have any specific figures on the number of Israelis working legally or illegally at malls in the US, Parker said, “We figure there are thousands at any one time who are working at these places in the States. Some may have American passports; some have H2 [work] visas. We’re not saying all those at the malls are working illegally; we’re saying that the recruiters are hiring a lot of them and promising them something that isn’t true. The recruiters tell them, ‘Go ahead and get the tourist visa; we’ll work on getting you the work visa,’ or they just say ‘Go ahead and work on the tourist visa and don’t worry about it.’” Parker described a “large-scale industry” that has sprung up in malls across America and a “phenomenon that has grown considerably.”
He said that the widespread nature of the industry has drawn the attention of law enforcement agencies in the US, who are starting to put these businesses under the microscope, though he added that the consulate in Tel Aviv only deals with issues of immigration and work visas.
Theodore Brosius, vice-consul of the US Embassy in Tel Aviv, said Thursday that the video has been unexpectedly successful so far in reaching a wide audience.
“We’ve certainly gotten a lot of hits, much more than we expected.
We had 50,000 in 30 hours after releasing the video. The most common talk-backs for the video are from young Israelis complaining that these kids who go work at these kiosks make it harder on the rest of us and aren’t good ambassadors for the State of Israel because they give this impression of Israelis that they just want to go and work at the mall – so I think there’s a lot of anger and resentment towards these Israelis.” Brosius also said that conversations he has had with Israelis who have worked in malls in the US has made it apparent to him that the work isn’t as easy as they assume.
“We interviewed many [Israelis] on and off camera who said they would be there when the mall opened, work all day and then be there until the mall closed every day – 13 and 14 hours at a time… So the idea that somehow they’ll go to America and have some great American party simply isn’t the case.”
Both men said that the issue could thwart recently reported efforts by Israeli officials to get Israel put on the US visa waiver list. One of the considerations for being on the list is that the visa refusal rate is under 3%, while today, around 6% of Israelis applying for visas are refused.
24-year-old Cfir Cohen of Petah Tikva worked in a mall in San Diego for 3 months with a legal H2-B visa and said that while the experience worked out for him, and helped him fund a trip to South America, it isn’t for everyone.
“For me, it worked. I would make a lot of money. But even if it doesn’t work, you just go somewhere else. Usually, the hardest places are in the South.”
Cohen said he had a problem with being required to work on the Sabbath, though it was just part of the job.
He said that while he and his friends paid around $200 each to an Israeli recruiter who secured them legal work visas, most Israelis prefer to take the gamble and save the money. He estimated that from the conversations he had with other Israelis working at malls and on online forums, around 80% are working illegally in the states.
Even though Cohen did have the proper documentation, he said his income
was paid entirely in cash and that no tax returns were ever filed by him
or his employer for the work he performed.
He also said that he worked solely on commission and that “there would
be days I’d make $20 in 11 hours and other days I’d make $600, usually
during times like Christmas or Black Friday.”
“Sivan,” a former employee of a company in Tel Aviv that manages
Israeli-run mall kiosks in shopping centers around the world, said the
business is rather clearly on the wrong side of the law. “It’s 100%
illegal,” Sivan said, adding that the company never actually secured
anyone a legal work visa, but would tell them that they can go to the
States and beat the system.
Sivan said that two years ago, after a wave of arrests by immigration
authorities in the States, her former company pulled all of their
Israeli workers out of the States and focused their operations on malls
in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Europe.