Tourists trickle back to Israel as 2% refused entry

Tomer Moskowitz Photo: Spokesperson Enforcement and Collection Authority

Immigrant Authority head Tomer Moskowitz explains how to distinguish between tourists and migrants and is confident the US will grant Israelis a visa exemption.

30,345 foreign tourists have entered Israel since the country was reopened for non-Israeli passport holders on November 1. This is a lower number than expected due to the strict health entry requirements with foreign tourists needing 14 days to have elapsed from a booster vaccination, if their second Covid jab was administered more than six months ago.

7,500 tourists came from the US, 5,500 from France, 2,300 from the UK and 2,000 from Germany. 550 foreign tourists (nearly 2%) were refused entry to Israel and put back on the first flight to where they came from, sometimes with a ban on entering Israel.

Some were refused entry for health reasons because they had not complied with Covid vaccination or testing requirements, while others had tried to enter as migrants under the guise of short-stay visitors, mainly from Eastern European countries, Georgia and Africa. Airlines are responsible for returning tourists unable to enter Israel and the decision about entry rests with the Ministry of Interior's Population and Immigration Authority.

Population and Immigration Authority director general Tomer Moskowitz told "Globes," "There is an increase in the entry of foreigners into Israel and together with the good there is also the bad. Until now the holding facilities for those refused entry has been empty but like wild grass, with the good things, comes people we don't want to enter here."

"Until now they haven't been able to enter anyway because the policy wasn't to allow entry of foreigners into Israel, except with special approval. Today they try to slip through the holes in the filter. The border control apparatus is supposed to identify those whose intentions on entering are not motivated by tourism."

How do you identify such people?

"A person arrives who doesn't know the country at all, who has no hotel booking and has about €30 in their pocket. Our presumption is that they haven't come to bring any pleasure to the Minister of Tourism. Beyond that the border inspectors know how to identify somebody who isn't a tourist. It could be something to do with their body movements or other suspicious signs. Identification is their art.

"In order to prevent entry of migrants, we have two filters. One is the preliminary entry visa arrangements in the countries that require this, such as India, where a visa request operates as the first filter and for which the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is responsible. In countries that don't need the receipt of a visa ahead of time, like Ukraine, the first filter is conducted by the border inspectors, who sit in the booths at the airport and are supposed to identify them."

But on the other hand they might suspect somebody who genuinely is a tourist but gave the wrong answers to questions.

"If an inspector suspects somebody they pass them on to a superior and more experienced inspector, where more searching enquiries are conducted. The inspector has the authority to approve entry of a tourist, who in some cases is required to deposit money as a guarantee, in amounts that range from thousands to tens of thousands of shekels. By the way, the tourist has the right to appeal. If it happens that we are talking about a tourist, then we say thank you very much but we do not apologize and do not pay compensation, even if they felt inconvenienced. We are only doing our job.

"Another option is to refuse entry for the tourist and inform the captain of the plane on which the person landed that they must make it their concern to return them to the country, from which they came. Sometimes we buy the air ticket with the remark that the person cannot return to Israel for the next five years. The assumption is that we must stop the entry of migrant workers, or more seriously, identify victims of human trafficking, such as women sent here to meet somebody who will pimp for them."

To learn from the German experience

The world strives to forego entry visas in order to encourage tourism. What's your opinion on this issue?

"There are countries like Ukraine where we have not succeeded in keeping entry visa requirements ahead of time. I don't believe in completely canceling visas. There are strong countries and weak countries and there is a tendency for people, like all things in nature, to raise themselves up. Western countries need to protect themselves.

"If Germany in 2015 let in 1.5 million migrants, today it understands the problem. It's easy to be a welfare state when everybody is working and contributing to the economy but for the State of Israel, the national identity is also important and here the Law of Return clearly defines who is entitled to return. We do not need to accept others.

"On everything regarding entry to Israel, our interest is immigration. On the other hand, there is the interest of international relations and tourism. Our assumption is that most of the tourists are fair people but within that there is the issue of managing risks and preventing illegal human trafficking."

And how many of these do you not succeed in identifying?

"There have been groups that have come apparently as Christian pilgrims but what interests them is to stay in Israel. If we have not identified people at the entrance gateway into Israel, and I estimate that we are talking about many thousands, the administration's unit tries to locate them when they are living here illegally."

Israelis are waiting impatiently for the cancelation of US entry visa requirements. Where does that stand?

"The US is the only country where citizens are exempt from receiving an entry visa for Israel, while we require one. Minister of Interior Ayelet Shaked is in the US and promoting the issue. We have recruited a project manager and one of the main things that he is dealing with is the visa exemption. I believe that it will happen and we are not talking about unrealistic dreams. It is possible to surmount all obstacles."

Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on November 17, 2021.

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd., 2021.

Tomer Moskowitz Photo: Spokesperson Enforcement and Collection Authority
Tomer Moskowitz Photo: Spokesperson Enforcement and Collection Authority
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