Minister of Interior Ayelet Shaked and Minister of Science and Technology Orit Farkash-Hacohen are promoting a new plan to bring foreign tech workers to Israel. The plan includes allowing foreign students studying engineering subjects in Israel to receive a visa to continue working here, while foreign experts will also be granted visas to integrate into the industry, in order to meet the government's target of 15% of Israel's work force employed in the tech sector by 2026.
According to the plan, an employment chief will be appointed to the Israel Innovation Authority, who will work with tech companies on three tracks to fill new job vacancies.
On the first track, work visas will be given to overseas specialists to work at Israeli tech companies. These experts and their employers will meet the following conditions: receiving twice the salary of the average salary in the Israeli economy, and recognition by the Israel Innovation Authority that the company is a tech company. The employment chief will hold responsibility for simplifying the visa process for tech workers, so that it will be swift and straightforward. The option already exists for Israeli tech companies to hire foreign experts but they are not aware of it and therefore don't take advantage of it. The aim of appointing the employment chief is to push the application and streamlining of the work visa granting process for employees in the sector.
The second track is designed for tech employees who are Jewish and entitled to immigrate to Israel under the Law of Return (aliyah) but want to come to Israel for a trial period or a limited amount of time before they decide to begin the aliyah process. These employees will not need to meet the threshold of double the average salary and can make do with confirmation of a job in the tech sector, together with a declaration that they meet the conditions for rights under the Law of Return.
On the third track, three year work visas will be given to students who have learned technological subjects in Israel and want to stay and work in the field before returning to their native countries. This track is designed, among other things, for the 1,000 students from India currently learning in Israel on technology tracks. However, it has been decided that no more than 500 work permits, at any one time, will be granted to these graduates.
According to sources familiar with the plan, it will not come at the expense of junior employees starting out on tech careers or the training of peripheral populations in Israel. This is because the plan mainly focuses on talented employees, of which there is a major shortfall in Israel and in order to prevent a brain drain abroad. This is also a complementary measure to other steps being taken by Farkash-Cohen to increase the number of employees in the sector through tax incentives and setting up an inter-ministerial team to enlarge the human capital in Israel's tech industry.
According to Shaked, "There is a national need to strengthen the tech sector, which is the main engine of the Israeli economy today. Instead of companies opening development centers abroad, it is preferable to import workers to Israel, and that Jews with rights under the Law of Return will also remain here."
During a meeting held on Sunday between the two ministers and the professional teams from the Israel Innovation Authority and the Immigration Authority, together with representatives from the industry, the plan to import workers was agreed as the best way of dealing with the problem. It was also agreed to appoint an employment chief as the best way of implementing the plan.
Farkash-Cohen is currently working together with Minister of Finance Avigdor Liberman on a plan for tax incentives for tech employees. She has also initiated the inter-ministerial committee headed by former Intel VP Dedi Perlmutter on how to enlarge Israel's human capital in the tech industry.
Farkas-Cohen told "Globes," "We have moved forward another important step together with Minister of Interior Ayelet Shaked. Not just talk but deeds. We have decided on the new tracks to make it easier for professional tech workers from abroad, including immigrants, students and experts - which will allow them to receive work visas quickly and with less approvals and bureaucracy. And more good news: there will be an employment chief who will work with all involved and find a response to the many enquiries on the issue. This is another step in a range of steps that I am promoting in the cabinet to increase employment in high-tech. More employees in high-tech is a national mission and I am continuing to work on that."
Encouraging Jewish tech workers to make aliyah
As part of these efforts, on Sunday the cabinet approved a proposal to set up a team to encourage Jewish tech professional to immigrate to Israel (make aliyah) as well as a raft of incentives for the immigrants (olim). The Jewish Agency for Israel committed to produce a mechanism within 90 days that will connect up candidates for aliyah that have been trained in tech professions and potential employees in Israel. According to the data attached to the cabinet decision, between 2009 and 2012, 4,427 engineers immigrated to Israel, contributing NIS 900,000 to the country's economy.
The proposal was formed by Farkash-Cohen, Minister of Aliyah and Integration Pnina Tamano-Shata, and Minister of Finance Avigdor Liberman, together with the Prime Minister's Office. The committee that will be set up as a result will comprise several directors general of government ministries, headed by the director general of the Prime Minister's Office, with participation by representatives of the Ministry of Economy and Industry and the National Economic Council. The committee's mandate will be to provide a solution to the dire shortage of tech employees in Israel.
Earlier this week the Central Bureau of Statistics published that there is a 14,000 shortfall in employees in Israel's tech sector of which 10,000 is in software. Alongside this shortfall, the current government's guidelines have set a target of increasing the overall percentage of Israel's workforce employed in tech to 15% by 2026.
The current law provides a partial solution for Israeli tech companies
Many Israeli tech companies already use work visas for foreign experts in order to bring them to Israel, after proving that the employees is an expert in his or her field. The existing law provides a partial solution to the shortfall but is far from filling the 14,000 job vacancies in Israeli tech.
Even though there is no precise definition of an expert, generally speaking the Immigration Authority expects expert candidates for a work visa to have many years and major experience in their field, such as a certain software language, cybersecurity, AI, or computer engineering. Somebody who has graduated from an elite US university but only has a year or two of experience does not fit the bill at the moment for a work permit in Israel.
Raising awareness alongside relaxations
Despite these limitations, awareness of Israeli tech companies on how to use these expert options has risen very much in recent years, together with significant relaxations by the Immigration Authority. Consequently the number of foreign experts working at Israeli tech companies has climbed from 1,682 in 2010 to 6,832 on the eve of the outbreak of the Covid pandemic last year. The number then fell to 5,300 but has risen again to 5,600.
The Immigration Authority, for example, has recently waived the need for a candidate to undergo an interview at the Israeli consulate in their native country and after being accepted by a tech company, and today they receive their work permit on landing at Ben Gurion airport. However, this means that there is no thorough check on whether the tech expert has a criminal record or health problems. The experts receive visas for five years and three months and their employers are committed to paying them at least double the average national salary - currently NIS 22,600 - a relatively small salary by Israeli tech sector standards.
Not fulfilling the demand
There is currently no quota for foreign tech expert work permits, they just have to prove their expertise and experience but it is doubtful that 10,000 foreign experts can satisfy the huge need for workers in Israeli tech. The shortfall is estimated at 14,000 and many of them don't need to be experts but just rank and file coders with a year or two experience, or university graduate without experience, as long as they have studied for a technology degree or have English as a mother tongue.
Adv. Tsvi Kan-Tor, an expert in business immigration, told "Globes," "In order to allow more foreign tech workers into the Israeli market, we can draw inspiration from countries like the US that grant visas for people with high skills. This is one grade less than an experts visa and allows a wide population to work in a country, although without the salary of experts. Visas like these for high skilled employees like the HIB visa in the US for academic graduates, would also allow companies to employ people on lower salaries."
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on October 19, 2021.
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