Passage from India: Israel seeks workers to replace Palestinians

Construction in Israel before the Swords of Iron war  credit: Shlomi Yosef
Construction in Israel before the Swords of Iron war credit: Shlomi Yosef

With Palestinians barred from Israel, the construction industry is looking to India to fill the gap, but the regulatory and logistical obstacles are formidable.

Flights and housing: The challenges to foreign worker importation Dozens of construction workers from India arrived in Israel last week but compared to the need, it’s just a drop in the bucket. Yuval Nissani About 50 foreign construction workers from India arrived in Israel last week - first harbingers of the least 65,000 workers planned. For more than four months now, the construction industry has been coping with a huge shortage of labor, a consequence of stopping the entry into Israel of more than 100,000 Palestinian construction workers. But, in addition to the recruitment efforts, which have been going on for months, other challenges lie ahead.

Recruitment progressing slowly

Since the beginning of the war, about 20,000 foreign construction workers have been living in Israel. The latest government decision allows their number to increase by 45,000. The government also intends to approve bringing another 20,000 foreign workers "privately", meaning, directly through personnel agencies.

Government officials hope to bring this quantity to Israel within two months, or three at the most. But this is an undertaking that Israel has never tried before: between 2013 and 2022, the number of foreign workers in Israel’s construction industry increased by only about 15,000.

About 1,000 workers from India have come to Israel recently. The first group of privately recruited laborers from India landed here last week. The ambitious idea of bringing in tens of thousands within two months seems a far stretch. There is also the question whether such large numbers of workers are available, and whether they even want to come.

The main effort is currently concentrated on three countries: India, Sri Lanka, and Uzbekistan. "Globes" has learned that the task is more difficult in the latter two, where recruitment is progressing slowly, and so most of the workers are expected to come from India.

The Ministry of Construction and Housing issued an update in mid-February, stating that 10,000 workers from the three countries had been organized so far, and Director General Yehuda Morgenstern stated that his goal was to arrange for another 20,000 workers by the end of March.

It is important to note that, by law, foreign construction workers may be imported only through officially approved staffing agencies. Until the war’s outbreak, about 50 such companies operated in Israel; since then, an additional 150 companies have submitted applications, which may help speed up the process greatly. The submission deadline was the end of December, but according to information obtained by "Globes", only about ten applications have so far been approved by the Population and Immigration Authority. In normal times, the approval process takes about two years.

Amnon Merhav, the current director general of the Ministry of Economy and Industry, and previously the CEO of Bonei Ha'aretz - the Economic Company of the Israel Builders Association, addressed the topic at the recent Israeli Building Center Group conference in Eilat, telling "Globes": "The government needs to change its concept, and permit the private import of large numbers of workers. The claim that this method might lead to human trafficking and human rights violations is misplaced: it is precisely the quota system in practice today which creates a black market, and trade in permits and workers."

Charter flights

The next challenge is management of the flights to Israel. If the intention is to bring at least 45,000 workers within two months, and each flight can accommodate up to 250 foreign workers, then about 20 flights are required to bring in about 5,000 workers per week. Even a lower number, about 10,000 workers per month, is no small matter.

"More than a regulatory operation, this is a logistical operation," says Bonei Ha'aretz CEO Igal Slovik."How should flight times be managed, how many will come in each day, where will they land - Ben Gurion Airport or Ramon Airport? These are all questions that, for the most part, the state will have to deal with."

According to Yacov Amsalem, owner and CEO of travel company Amsalem Group, which is participating in the effort to bring workers to Israel, there is no difficulty in bringing large amounts of workers when needed. "So far, we’ve only issued a few dozen tickets, mainly from India, although in the past few days the rate looked as though it was increasing slightly," he says. "With these numbers, we can manage through existing commercial flights, and we can bring up to 10,000 workers per month in the same way. If necessary, we can set up charter flights on demand, within days, and bring in larger numbers as well." Incidentally, each worker pays for the ticket, whether commercial or charter flight (which is twice as expensive), out of his own pocket.

After all these procedures are in place, housing the foreign workers will pose a new challenge. Until now, the industry relied on Palestinian laborers who returned home at the end of each day.

Where will the tens of thousands of foreign workers stay? At present, the chairperson of the Knesset Special Committee on Foreign Workers, MK Eliyahu Revivo (Likud), is formulating provisional legislation that will allow construction of temporary housing for foreign workers. "As a result, labor productivity will increase significantly, construction times will be shortened, and contractors' expenses may decrease significantly, which will help in lowering housing prices," Revivo said. The bill will be put before the Knesset in the coming days, but matters will not be easy, even if it is approved quickly. It will take a considerable amount of time to find suitable locations, receive approvals, and construct the residences.

Published by Globes, Israel business news - - on February 25, 2024.

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

Construction in Israel before the Swords of Iron war  credit: Shlomi Yosef
Construction in Israel before the Swords of Iron war credit: Shlomi Yosef
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