Barely 1,000 foreign workers reach Israel in five months

Construction site in Israel  credit: Shlomi Yosef
Construction site in Israel credit: Shlomi Yosef

At the beginning of the war, the government approved the import of 65,000 construction workers, but only a trickle has arrived.

The rate at which foreign workers are arriving to work in Israel’s construction industry, which is crying out for manpower, continues to be worryingly low, but that didn’t inhibit the minister of the interior and the minister of construction and housing, who decided to participate in a festive welcoming ceremony for workers arriving in Israel last Thursday.

The ceremony, with the slogan "Building Israel", took place at the offices of the National Labor Federation in Modi’in. Present were Minister of Construction and Housing Yitzhak Goldknopf, Minister of the Interior Moshe Arbel, Ministry of Construction and Housing director general Yehuda Morgenstern, Knesset Internal Affairs and Environment Committee chairperson MK Ya’akov Asher, National Labor Federation chairperson Yoav Simchi, and other notables.

Even though barely 1,000 foreign workers out of the 45,000 that the government seeks to bring in have actually arrived in Israel, the pair of ministers who head the main ministries involved in the matter saw fit to participate in the event.

According to the latest figures from the Population and Immigration Authority, 1,004 new foreign workers have arrived in Israel so far - 462 from India, 419 from Moldova, 89 from Sri Lanka, 27 from Romania, and seven from Hungary.

Incidentally, most of the workers came on the private track (that is, not under bilateral agreements between Israel and other countries), and only the 419 workers from Moldova came under a bilateral agreement, which means that not a single worker has arrived under the new bilateral agreements that Israel signed with India, Sri Lanka, and Uzbekistan.

Many sources in the industry warned from the start of the slow rate of arrival of foreign workers on the bilateral track, and so insisted on the private track, which up to now has been almost the only channel to have yielded any kind of result, even if the numbers are low so far.

According to government decisions at the beginning of the war, more than 60,000 foreign workers are supposed to come to Israel for the construction industry alone. 45,000 are due to come under bilateral agreements, increasing the quota of workers on this track to 65,000 in total, while a further 20,000 workers were due to come on the private track. Additional workers are meant to be brought in on other tracks, among other things for the infrastructure sector.

A statement on behalf of Goldknopf said that "he considers it right to assist any initiative connected to bringing foreign workers to Israel, and welcomes them," including Thursday’s ceremony, even if most of the workers have not yet arrived.

"Thousands waiting in India and Sri Lanka"

More than five months after the outbreak of war, only 1.5% of the hoped for number of workers have reached Israel. Why? The Israel Builders Association, which screens the workers in the countries where they live in order to ensure that only those suitable for work in construction enter Israel, says that almost 18,000 workers from India and Sri Lanka "have been examined and approved for work by the Association, and are waiting to come to Israel." Despite this, they have not actually arrived. Sources familiar with the matter explained that this was because of bureaucracy and because manpower companies for foreign workers were still learning the process.

Eldad Nitzan, chairperson of the Foreign Manpower Companies Association in the Israel Chamber of Commerce, said "We are working to expedite the process, and after the first round is completed, in which there are about ten thousand workers, the rounds will start to move faster."

Since the start of the war, applications have been received from about 300 companies for permits to bring in foreign workers. Since the process is a long one, the Population and Immigration Authority has so far approved only 29 applications.

A statement from Moshe Arbel’s bureau said, "The minister of the interior encourages and backs all those involved in the important work of bringing in foreign workers for the construction industry. Despite the fact that the task has not yet been accomplished, there is certainly room to encourage the private sector, which is taking on the responsibility and entering into commitments and guarantees for the sake of advancing the construction industry, for the benefit of the entire Israeli economy."

Published by Globes, Israel business news - - on March 18, 2024.

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd., 2024.

Construction site in Israel  credit: Shlomi Yosef
Construction site in Israel credit: Shlomi Yosef
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