Israel to issue ‘start-up visas’ for foreign entrepreneurs

Entrepreneurs who obtain the two-year visas will be able to develop new technological enterprises in Israel and their visas will be extended if they decide to establish start-up companies in Israel.

October 23, 2015 01:05
2 minute read.
Nefesh B Nefesh

Starting Your Own Business in Israel 758. (photo credit: NEFESH B'NEFESH)


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If you’re planning on creating the next Waze, the next Trusteer, or the next XtremIO, the government doesn’t care if you’re Jewish, Israeli or have even visited the Holy Land. It wants you to set up shop right here.

The Economy Ministry on Thursday announced plans to issue “innovation visas” for foreign entrepreneurs to come work in Israel. Entrepreneurs who obtain the two-year visas “will be able to develop new technological enterprises in Israel and their visas will be extended if they decide to establish start-up companies in Israel,” according to the ministry.

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“Israel is known in the world as a center of innovation and development and we must retain this position. The innovation visa will enable foreign entrepreneurs from all over the world to develop new ideas in Israel and this will help the local market grow and improve our standing in the world,” said Economy Minister Arye Deri.

Though the final details have not been established, entrepreneurs who come to Israel through the program will participate in a framework provided by the ministry’s Office of the Chief Scientist – soon to be the National Authority for Technological Innovation – that will include “workspace, physical and technological infrastructure, professional support.”

They will also have the opportunity to apply for further “expert visas,” which will make them eligible for some Office of the Chief Scientist support grants and programs.

“We believe this program will receive responses from entrepreneurs who will be able to develop their ideas and establish unique start-ups through it,” said Chief Scientist Avi Hasson. “I have no doubt that the entrepreneurs who will come to the country through the program will then become ambassadors of goodwill for Israel around the world.”

Yet the visa program may fall short in addressing some of the challenges Israel faces due to limitations on its immigration policy. Because Israel is concerned with demographic issues, it has little access to foreign talent.

In a speech to the Israel Advanced Technology Industries nonprofit umbrella organization this week, Microsoft Israel R&D Center general manager Yoram Yaacovi warned that Israel was “running out of geeks.” One reason why it was running low on high-skilled engineers was that, unlike other advanced countries, it cannot “import” them. The well-educated olim who flooded Israel from former Soviet states in the 1990s and helped thicken the ranks of scientists and engineers is beginning to phase out of the workforce.

For non-Jewish foreign workers, entrepreneurs and engineers, work visas are hard to come by, and almost impossible to extend past a five-year limit. The prospect of permanent residence is a near impossibility, meaning that high-skilled foreigners know they will eventually have to leave, just like guest workers who come for jobs in construction, agriculture and elder care.

Would-be entrepreneurs can already apply for B-1 work visas, though the process is lengthy and they would not receive the same level of support and infrastructure offered by the new “innovation visas.”

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