THE SKYLINE of Tel Aviv as seen from Dolev, southern Samaria. .
(photo credit: MICHAL GILADI)
With Israel facing a shortage of thousands of software engineers and computer programmers, the Start-Up Nation says it’s easing red tape and granting more visas to non-Jewish hi-tech workers.
In early February, the Population and Immigration Authority announced that start-ups and hi-tech firms would be able to hire non-Israelis as “experts” for up to one year in a special 12-month pilot program.
Yet behind the fine print lies a more pressing question – whether the authority and the Interior Ministry have hired the requisite staffers to expedite relieving the jobs backlog.
“They need to [increase] the quantity of people approving the visas,” attorney Zari Hazan told The Jerusalem Post
. “There’s only one manager to deal with all the requests at the Interior Ministry. They need to bring more people to work there.”
Hazan – who specializes in obtaining immigration and work visas – could benefit from a backlog, as he may be able to charge more fees.
But the short staffing harms his clients, and the attorney has deemed the changes to be more cosmetic than substantive.
“It’s not good enough to declare that we’ve opened the sky for professional workers to the hi-tech [realm]. In this section, we haven’t seen an increase, nothing yet. We are waiting two or three months and all the requests are stuck in Jerusalem.”
On January 1, the Population and Immigration Authority published plans for a new hi-tech work visa for foreigners, with plans to host an online application that would process the visas within days. With the current sixweek- or-longer processing time, hi-tech workers can spend thousands of shekels on lawyer fees to obtain a visa.
Workers who make more than double the average Israeli salary – or around $5,700 (NIS 19,400) monthly – would be eligible for the hi-tech visa and be able to stay up to 63 months.
And their spouses could also get a visa, according to a report by Ernst & Young. Also, a foreigner studying computer science will be able to get a work permit in the first year after graduating without having to meet the earning threshold.
Yet advocates for hi-tech workers dismissed concerns of a backlog, saying that if companies pushed hard enough, they’ll get the requisite visas.
Eran Shir, CEO and co-founder of Nexar, a dash-cam mobility start-up, told the Post
: “I believe that right now, it’s easier to get a work visa for Tel Aviv than for [President Donald] Trump’s US,” said.
Shir is helping put together generous relocation packages to entice foreigners to work in Tel Aviv. He’s leading an initiative called BETA (Be In Tel Aviv), where Israeli firms cooperate in recruiting foreign hi-tech workers.
“In regard to bureaucracy, the jury is still out. I’m still optimistic, that’s why I’m an entrepreneur... But what I’m meeting is a lot of goodwill from different branches of the government, inbound interest, different organizations.”
Israel’s hi-tech sector faces a shortage of around 10,000 specialized employees over the next decade, according to a report released by the Israel Innovation Authority in the fall of 2017. With some 300 multinational corporations and an estimated 4,000 start-ups nationwide competing for talent, Israel faces rapidly rising wages as employers compete for available workers.
Hundreds of people a year are applying for foreign hi-tech or engineering work visas in Israel, Hazan added. Some 3,000 people worked in Israel on the expert visa in 2015, according to Calcalist.
The slow bureaucracy may also be an attempt to buffer Israelis from worldwide labor-market competition.
“For the professional workers, Israel wants to fight for its labor market – they want the jobs to come to Israelis. It’s exactly like in Britain, the US, Germany. The economy is good and people want to come work here,” Hazan said, creating competition with local workers.
The Population and Immigration Authority did not reply to requests for comment by press time.