Migrant Workers 311.
(photo credit: Illustrative photo/ Mya Guarnieri)
Migrant workers who arrive in Israel to take up jobs in the healthcare,
construction and agricultural industries are grossly overpaying the agents that
brought them here, and spend more than a third of their time working just to pay
back the initial fees, a new study released Monday found.
Based on more
than 200 interviews with foreign workers, the research shows that despite a
government cap on the amount manpower agencies are allowed to charge foreigners
to secure the necessary permits, visas and work placements, many migrants end up
paying thousands of dollars more.
The American-Jewish Joint Distribution
Committee’s (JDC) Center for International Migration and Integration (CIMI)
conducted the research thanks to a grant from the European Union and assistance
from the Ruppin Academic Center, University of Haifa and NGOs such as the
Hotline for Migrant Workers, Kav L’Oved and Mesila, which carried out the direct
interviews with foreign workers.
According to the data collected, even
though the government has set the fee for those coming to work here at $900, in
some of the sectors where migrants are typically employed, workers reported
paying up to six times that amount. One worker from China even said he paid
$31,000 to secure a job in the building industry.
“When we established
the institute for the migration, we knew that we had an important purpose, even
if not always pleasant, to reveal the true face of Israel and its approach to
the country’s foreign and migrant workers,” said Professor Shosh Arad, president
of the Ruppin Academic Center, at a press conference
“Unfortunately, the situation is reflected in this report, as
well as in other studies we have carried out, [which] show gross disregard for
human rights and the need to promote public awareness of the issue,” she said,
adding that despite government attempts to regulate the inflow of foreign
workers it was not sufficient.
Statistics included in the report show
that there has been a sharp increase in the number of migrant workers coming to
Israel. In 1993, foreigners accounted for only 1.6 percent of the workforce in
Israel but by 2010, that had increased to 10%. The latest data from the Central
Bureau of Statistics showed that in 2010 there were some 211,500 migrant workers
in Israel, 116,500 of them here illegally and 95,000 here with necessary
On average, the research released Monday showed that those
coming to work in the nursing field – usually from the Philippines, Sri Lanka
and Nepal – paid between $6,900 and $9,000 in fees, while those from Thailand
and other countries who came to Israel to work in agriculture paid more than
$9,000. The highest fees were among Chinese workers in the construction sector,
with the average rate being around $27,000 per person.
Due to the high
fees the workers paid to secure job placements, the study showed that most of
them were forced to borrow capital from friends or relatives, take out loans
from official agencies, or even from the black market.
As a result of the
high fees, researchers heard that it could take up to a third of their entire
stay in Israel – most migrants are allowed to stay for five years – to pay back
these loans, meaning it is nearly a year and a half before they are able to make
a profit and send monies back home to their families.
During that time,
the workers reported a deep feeling of insecurity and said they were not able to
report any kind of injustices by their employers or human rights abuses for fear
of losing their jobs, the study found.
“This study demonstrates the
necessity of regulation of all aspects of migrant workers in Israel,” said Arnon
Mantver, director of the JDC and CIMI. “An entire industry has developed here on
the back of vulnerable populations.”
Despite some steps taken in recent
years by the government – including agreements signed with Thailand and Bulgaria
to improve conditions for workers – Mantver said that more needs to be
“This does indicate a desire to fight this ugly phenomenon,” he
said. “I just hope the next study will show that there has been a downward trend
in this phenomenon.”