Strong Israeli economy magnet for 130,000 illegal migrants

There are 130,000 illegal immigrants in Israel and hundreds of thousands more want to come due to Israel’s strong economy, according to an immigration official.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

The head of the Population and Immigration Authority (PIBA) said the good conditions and fair pay that migrant workers receive in Israel make the country a very popular destination.

At a conference Sunday on various issues regarding legal and illegal migrant workers, Professor Shlomo Mor Yosef, the PIBA director, said that foreign workers from all over the world “are knocking on our door to come work in Israel.”

They want to come because of “the high minimum wage, and good work conditions that include strict work hours, payment for overtime, health insurance, etc.,” Mor Yosef said.

He noted that at any given moment there are about half a million foreign workers in the country, 370,000 of whom are here legally. For example, there are 8,000 Chinese working in construction, while as of 2016, over 19,000 have come from Thailand to work in agriculture.

These workers have come within the framework of bilateral agreements made with the governments of their countries, which have also reduced the phenomenon of foreign workers paying exorbitant sums of money to shady middlemen to get them to Israel and find them employment, where many had labored under slave-like conditions.

There is also a small number of workers in Israel from Bulgaria, Moldova, Romania and Sri Lanka.

As for day workers, Mor Yosef said there are 85,000 Palestinians with permission to work in Israel. There are even 1,000-1,500 Jordanians who cross the border every morning to work in the hotel industry before returning home at night.

Of the illegal workers, most of them either had valid work authorizations that ran out or they had come disguised as tourists and began working illegally, according to Mor Yosef.

There are also thousands of Ukrainians and Georgians who entered Israel as tourists but immediately came to PIBA to ask for political asylum, he added. It takes a long time for the system to check each case, and in the meantime they remain in the country.

Mor Yosef spoke at the  annual conference of the Center for International Migration and Integration (CIMI). Founded by the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC)-Israel in 1998, CIMI is an independent, non-profit organization dedicated to assisting Israel in meeting its migration challenges while also obeying international law on the subject.

CIMI recently established a center in Beersheba to provide asylum seekers with counseling and support. It also has a program to assist migrants in returning to their home countries as well as a hotline for migrant workers to learn about their rights.