Thursday, August 13, 2009

Israel bringing in thousands of migrant workers despite recent arrests

By Dana Weiler-Polak

Tags: migrant workers, refugees

Despite the high-profile operation by the immigration authorities to arrest hundreds of illegal immigrants, Israel is still issuing permits to bring in new workers, Haaretz has learned. There are currently tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of migrant workers, though just 56,000 work permits have been issued to caretakers.

In February, Israel began setting up a database on unemployed foreign caretakers to match them with new employers. Work on the database was halted a few weeks ago without any explanation from the government.

The database was part of the state's response to an appeal by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and the Hotline for Migrant Workers against a procedure that binds a migrant worker's visa to a particular employer. The appeal is due to come before a court today.


The Interior Ministry described the database at the time as a "one-off operation to formalize the status of caretakers without a valid visa and/or who are not employed in their field." The workers were asked to sign into the database by March 15.

The workers who signed up would be given a two-month working permit, after which they were expected to find employment as caretakers or be deported. The database was also supposed to be consulted before issuing work permits to prospective caretakers in the future.

NGOs assisting migrant workers welcomed the creation of the database. "Proper procedure demands the caretaker database to be a permanent component of the new employment policy in caretaking. Its continued operation is essential to ensure the employment of migrant workers brought to Israel but not employed," the organizations wrote in early May to Israel's top immigration official, Yaakov Ganot.

The NGOs also noted that the operation was only advertised on the Interior Ministry's Web site in Hebrew, and in a few daily newspapers in English. As a result, only 1,600 workers signed up before the database project was halted.

"The current absurd situation is that NGOs continue to assist workers coming here every day on 'flying visas,' but the same NGOs are also constantly approached by migrants already living in Israel but unemployed and unable to find a new employer," said Rom Levkovich from the Hotline for Mirant Workers. "No one is enforcing the regulation that obliges the authorities to find employment for migrants already in Israel."

Man Rai Bhadur came to Israel illegally from Nepal after paying a $8,000 "arbitration fee" to work as a caretaker. Bhadur tried to sign into the database on time, but a problem with his address slowed the procedure. Last week, the immigration authorities raided Bhadur's house and arrested him. A judge said he should be released to seek a new employer and renew his work visa.

However, Bhadur already had a plane ticket to leave the country, so the verdict was declared invalid. "I wanted to find another job, but they wouldn't sign me in," Bhadur said, speaking from the airport. The judge said I could stay but no one was listening, and it looks like I'll be on a plane within minutes. I don't know how it's going to be out there; I hope I'll be able to survive."

In the meantime, dozens of residents from the town of Arad demonstrated Sunday in front of the Be'er Sheva city hall, where the cabinet was meeting to discuss Israel's outlying areas.

"You can't set up regulations prohibiting migrants from living and working between Gadera and Hedera and then have them all come to our city. The arrests happening now in Tel Aviv will have the same results," said Eliezer Bar Sade, who organized the protest.

"We have received 1,500 refugees who integrated into society here, but no one is giving us the budgets to deal with that, and as a result the residents of the periphery are suffering, if only from losing more and more jobs."

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