Migrant workers in Israel currently number about 180,000 (some 7% of the local labor force), approximately 50% of whom lack legal status. Migrants are one of the weakest groups in Israel; as non-citizens, non-Hebrew speakers, and non-Jews, they are an invisible ‘other.’ Furthermore, Israel has no immigration policy for non-Jews. Even if one has resided in Israel for many years, naturalization is virtually impossible.
Migrant workers pay illegally charged fees of $5,000-$20,000 for the privilege of a legal work visa in Israel in one of three sectors: construction, agriculture or care giving. However, their visas are issued to their employers leaving migrants dependent on their employers for legal status. Work termination for any reason results in migrant workers losing their legal status and puts them at risk for detention and deportation. Similarly, lack of enforcement against violating legal employers leaves workers wishing to maintain their legal status ready victims of exploitation and trafficking.
In 2002 the Human Rights Clinic at the Tel Aviv University Law School petitioned on behalf of various NGOs, including the Hotline for Migrant Workers, against this policy. In March 2006, the High Court handed down a final ruling on the case. They stated that the policy of binding migrant workers to their employers constitutes a basic violation worker's rights and must be abolished. Nevertheless, two years later, with the exception of the construction sector, new systems have yet to be implemented. In addition, the proposed systems for agriculture and care giving do not offer adequate solutions to abuses faced by migrants or satisfy the conditions of this ruling.
Our 2013 program will focus on the following three issues: