Study: Bilateral agreements on migrant workers slash recruitment fees

By the end of 2018, there were 114,444 migrant workers living in Israel, primarily employed in caregiving (57%), agriculture (22%) and construction (13%) jobs.

A Thai worker picks Etrogs, a citrus fruit used in rituals during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, in a grove in the southern community of Nave, near the border with the Gaza Strip and Egypt, October 6, 2014  (photo credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN)
A Thai worker picks Etrogs, a citrus fruit used in rituals during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, in a grove in the southern community of Nave, near the border with the Gaza Strip and Egypt, October 6, 2014
(photo credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN)
The signing of bilateral agreements for the employment of migrant workers in Israel has slashed exorbitant recruitment fees by as much as $20,000, a new study has revealed.
Potential migrant workers seeking employment in Israel, attracted by the promise of higher wages, have often been reliant on private recruitment agencies charging thousands and even tens of thousands of dollars in mediation fees.
According to a new study published by the Center for International Migration & Integration (CIMI), Population & Immigration Authority (PIBA) and Ruppin Academic Center, however, bilateral agreements between the Israeli government and authorities in migrant workers' countries of origin have dealt a severe blow to the so-called "recruitment industry."
By the end of 2018, PIBA said there were 114,444 migrant workers living in Israel, primarily employed in caregiving (57%), agriculture (22%) and construction (13%) jobs.
Seeking to combat high fees charged by private agencies, ensure transparency and fairness in the recruitment process, and recruit skilled workers who are aware of their obligations and rights, Israel decided in 2005 to sign bilateral agreements with countries from which migrant workers would be recruited.
To date, bilateral agreements have been signed with Thailand (2010) in the agriculture sector, and Bulgaria (2011), Moldova (2012), Romania (2014), Ukraine (2016) and China (2017) in the field of construction.
Two further pilot agreements were signed with Nepal (2015) and Sri Lanka (2016) to recruit caregivers, although the majority of labor migration remains through private agencies.
Some 42,000 migrant workers have so far arrived in Israel under the bilateral agreements, saving an estimated total of over $200 million, according to the study written by Prof. Rebeca Raijman of the University of Haifa and Dr. Nonna Kushnirovich of Ruppin Academic Center.
"The recruitment of migrant workers started with the Ministry of Finance's free market concept," CIMI founder and chairman Arnon Mantver told The Jerusalem Post.
"Recruitment started with the free market charging $1,000 and ended up with the free market charging $10,000 and $15,000. If you don't have any control, regulations or enforcement, that is the outcome."
Prior to the implementation of a bilateral agreement with Thailand, the study showed, recruitment agencies collected an average sum exceeding $9,000 for the placement of migrant workers in Israel, even reaching $12,000 in some cases to obtain a work visa.
Since the implementation of the agreement, however, the total cost of migration decreased to an average of $2,100 to $2,200, with all employment applications now being considered by a government office.
Under a bilateral agreement signed in 2017 to recruit construction workers from China, managed by the China International Contractors Association (CHINCA), nearly 3,800 migrants have arrived in Israel. 
Amounts paid by Chinese workers to obtain work visas in Israel stood at slightly over $22,200 prior to the signing of the agreement. Since the agreement, total costs of migration decreased to $1,535, including permitted mediation fees of approximately $1,000 and related expenses such as flight tickets and issuing a passport.
In the case of migrant caregivers from Sri Lanka and Nepal, where pilot agreements are underway but still represent a small share of the recruitment method, fees have dropped significantly.
For Sri Lankans participating in the pilot, fees have fallen from approximately $10,250 to $2,400. Among Nepalese migrants, fees have decreased from almost $6,600 to under $750.
"The alternative to bilateral agreements is that migrant workers have to pay $15,000 - and that makes it modern slavery. For a year or two, depending on the sector, migrants have to pay back family members from whom they took loans to pay their way here," said Mantver, who leads a team of volunteers at CIMI's Jerusalem headquarters with public sector and governmental experience, and is now seeking to recruit supporters in the United States.
"I highly believe that bilateral agreements are a major tool to stabilize, humanize and control labor migration. In a bilateral agreement, we can also ensure that the country of origin bears some responsibility for taking workers back after a given period. Once done in a legal way, there is no problem of control."