'Migrant workers in Israel overpaying in manpower fees'

Study finds foreign workers spend more than a third of their time working just to pay back manpower agencies.

April 3, 2012 05:14
3 minute read.
MIGRANT WORKERS outside the central bus station in Tel Aviv.

Migrant Workers 311. (photo credit: Illustrative photo/ Mya Guarnieri)


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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 Monday.

“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 permits.

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 done.

“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.”

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