Having been established as a Jewish homeland, immigration into Israel is generally regulated by the Law of Return, 5710-1950, which applies to the immigration of Jews and their families to Israel as Olim. Immigration of persons who do not qualify under the Law of Return has been limited to exceptional circumstances in accordance with provisions of the Entry into Israel Law, 5712-1952.
Beginning in the 1990s, however, many foreign migrants have arrived in Israel as temporary workers. Some entered under special visas allocated under guest worker programs designated for certain fields such as construction, agriculture, and eldercare. Others entered illegally and stayed. The migrant population in Israel is diverse and was recently estimated as including approximately 400,000 workers from Thailand, the Philippines, the former Soviet Union, China, and other countries; 60,000 African asylum seekers; and 100,000 Palestinians seeking family reunification. The recruitment, authorization, and conditions of employment of foreign temporary workers are regulated by the Foreign Workers Law, 5751-1991.
II. Eligibility for Admission as a Temporary Worker
A. Visas and Visitor’s Residence Permits
The entry into Israel Law, 5712-1952 authorizes the Minister of the Interior to grant a visa and a visitor’s residence permit to a “foreign worker,” including “a person who is about to be admitted for work as a worker.” A “foreign worker” is defined by the Foreign Workers Law as a worker who is neither an Israeli citizen nor a resident. A worker visa will not be issued unless the employer holds a permit allowing him/her to employ the worker.
A request by an employer for a worker visa must be accompanied by a medical certificate based on a medical examination conducted within three months prior to the worker’s arrival in Israel in which he or she was found not to be a carrier of any of the following diseases: tuberculosis, hepatitis, gonorrhea, or aids. The Law requires that such a medical certificate be issued by a medical institution in the foreign country that is recognized for this purpose by the Minister of Health, and that the medical examination on which it is based be undertaken with the worker’s informed consent and the consent of the health authorities in the country where it is conducted.
B. Employment Permits
An employment permit submitted in connection with the issuance of a visa and residence permit must be issued by the officer in charge of employment rights of foreign workers at the Ministry of the Industry, Trade and Labor. The permit may either specify the number of workers that the employer may employ or identify them by names.
The Foreign Workers Law provides that employment permits will be issued in consideration of the needs of the labor market in specific labor sectors and geographical regions. The following occupations have been designated as those for which permits may be granted:
- Nursing care
- Welding and industrial professions
- Hotel work
- Ethnic cookery
The Foreign Workers Law further authorizes the Minister, after having consulted with the Minister of Industry, Trade and Labor, to impose conditions on employment permits, such as the type of labor in which the foreign worker can be employed, certain compensation requirements, and registration of days of work and of days of absence by the employer.
An employer’s application for an employment permit for a foreign worker must be accompanied by an application fee for both the initial permit as well as for any request for a permit extension. The employer is also responsible for payment of an annual employment fee for each visa and permit. Fee amounts depend on the labor sector in which the foreign worker is employed.
III. Recruitment and Sponsorship
As a general rule, foreigners cannot be employed in Israel through recruitment agencies. Exceptions exist for foreign workers who are employed in the construction trade. According to information posted on Israel’s Government Portal, as of May 2005, construction workers are only employed in Israel through Licensed Manpower Companies (LMCs). The LMCs assign workers to work with various building contractors.
Additionally, the employment of some of the foreign workers who are employed in the nursing trade is facilitated by “nursing companies.” These companies operate under special permission from the National Insurance Institute to provide nursing services to people who require nursing care. Although these companies pay part of the foreign workers’ wages, they are not the foreign workers’ employer; the person requiring the care is the employer of foreign nursing care workers. According to information posted on the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor, nursing companies
are[o]nly a “channel” for transferring the “home-care allowance”, to which the disabled employer is entitled under the National Insurance Law. The home-care allowance is usually transferred by a payment made directly into the foreign worker’s bank account. This is on account of the wage due to him for his total work for his employer—the disabled person entitled to the home-care allowance. The disabled employer will receive a ‘wage slip’, which is an account of the part of the wage which has been transferred by the company according to the home-care allowance to which the disabled person is entitled as aforesaid.
Foreign nursing caregivers and their employers are obliged to contact one of the private licensed offices that are authorized by the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor, and sign a request form registering the worker as a caregiving employee in Israel.
According to information posted on Israel’s Government Portal, where appropriate, workers may be required to pay a recruitment fee if recruited in their native countries. The fee paid to recruitment agencies both abroad and in Israel must not exceed the total sum of NIS 3,050 (about US$831), in addition to travel expenses. Workers who were asked to pay undue or extra recruitment fees are encouraged to file a complaint with the Head of Section in Charge of Foreign Workers’ Rights at Work (HSCFWRW). According to the Foreign Workers Law, the HSCFWRW is appointed by the Minister of Industry, Trade and Labor from the ministry’s employees and is responsible for enforcement and for increased awareness of rights granted to foreign workers under the labor law.
IV. Visa Conditions
A. Specification of Labor Sector Rather than Specific Employer
A worker visa may be obtained either at the foreign worker home country or in Israel with a tourist visa. A worker visa is valid only for the specific trade for which it was issued. Employment in another trade is prohibited.
According to the Entry into Israel Law, temporary residence for a foreign worker is initially limited to a period of three months, which can be extended by the Minister of Interior for up to five years as long as the first extension period does not exceed two years, followed by single annual extensions. An extension of employment beyond the five-year limit may be authorized by the Minister for the purpose of continuing the employment of a foreign worker who provides nursing care for a patient, subject to conditions specified by law.
The Minister of Interior is generally authorized to change a visa and a time-limited residence permit to a permit for permanent residence. However, no regulations were identified that establish a program to provide a path to permanent status for foreign workers.
C. Change of Employers
The Foreign Workers Law authorizes the Minister of the Interior, after consultation with the Minister of Industry, Trade and Labor, and with the approval of the Knesset (Parliament) Committee for Labor, Welfare and Health, to issue regulations regarding a change of employers by foreign workers. Among other issues, the regulations may apply to the proportional contribution paid by employers on account of employment fees paid under the Law.
According to the Foreign Workers (Transfer of a Foreign Worker among Employers that are Manpower Companies in the Construction Sector) Regulations 5776-2006, a foreign worker employed in the construction sector may transfer from one manpower company to another as long as a request for registration with the new employer was submitted within twenty-nine days from the date on which the employment with the former employer has ceased and as long as the new employer registered the foreign worker with the appropriate unit at the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor. Registration may be done at three-month intervals on the last day of each quarter unless the HSCFWRW has found that the foreign worker was fired by the previous employer or when special circumstances that justify such transfer before the completion of the quarter exist.
In a 2006 leading decision, Israel’s Supreme Court held that, as a rule, tying a foreign worker’s residence permit to a specific employer violates the requirement of proportionality under the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty and was therefore void. The Court ordered the government to establish rules that would comply with the Basic Law’s requirements. By December 2009, when an additional decision was rendered by the Supreme Court regarding implementation of its 2006 decision, new procedures had been established. The procedures apply to foreign workers in the caregiving, agriculture, and industry sectors. Among other things, the new procedures removed any limitation on the number of transfers a worker could make among employers and further diminished the ability of an employer to block the transfer of a worker to another employer.
Unlike in the agriculture and construction sectors where the number of foreign workers that can obtain worker visas is limited by a clear quota, there are no quotas limiting the number of visas that can be issued for foreign workers in the nursing care sector. Where applicable, quotas are determined by the government.
E. Linkage Between Sectors of Employment and Economic Conditions
As explained above, foreign worker visas are issued based on employment permits that are provided to employers in accordance with criteria that take into account “characteristics of the labor market in the different labor sectors and geographic locations.”
V. Admission Status of Family Members
Children of foreign workers are generally not allowed to stay in Israel after the expiration of their tourist visas. A temporary resolution adopted by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s government on August 1, 2010, granted permanent resident status to children of migrant workers who at that time, among other conditions,
- had lived in Israel for at least five consecutive years,
- spoke Hebrew, and
- arrived in Israel before they were thirteen years old.
Prepared by Ruth Levush
Senior Foreign Law Specialist and Project Coordinator
 Law of Return, 5710-1950, 4 Laws of the State of Israel [LSI] 114 (5710-1949/50), as amended.
 Olim are immigrants under the Law of Return.
 Entry into Israel Law, 5712-1952, 6 LSI 159 (5712-1951/52), as amended.
 Bianca Ambrosio & Jonathan Kahan, Op-ed, Immigration Policy, Now, YNET (June 26, 2012), http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4246428,00.html.
 Foreign Workers Law, 5751-1991, Sefer HaHukim [SH] [Book of Laws, Official Gazette] No. 1349, p. 112.
 Entry into Israel Law § 2(c) (referring to the definition in the Foreign Workers Law §1L) (translation by author, R.L.).
 Foreign Workers Law § 1.
 Id. § 1B.
 Entry into Israel Law § 2(c); Foreign Workers Law § 1M(a).
 Foreign Workers Law § 1M(a).
 Id. § 1M(b).
 Guide for Migrant Workers, Israel Government Portal, http://www.gov.il/FirstGov/TopNavEng/Eng Situations/ESMigrantWorkersGuide/ESMWGComing/ (last visited Feb. 20, 2013).
 Foreign Workers Law § 1N(1).
 Id. §1 J.
 Guide for Migrant Workers, supra note 13.
 Foreign Workers’ Rights at Work Handbook – Rights Under Labor Laws, Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor, http://www.moital.gov.il/NR/exeres/C95B7D30-1105-47C7-85D8-17B26C284C31.htm (last visited Feb. 21, 2013).
 Foreign Caregivers–Information Sheet Regarding New Employment System, Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor (Feb. 2, 2009), http://www.tamas.gov.il/NR/exeres/457B4A53-40EE-47A0-B5A9-3EC0BC386D78.htm.
 Guide for Migrant Workers, supra note 13. For further information about the HSCFWRW, see A Note from the Head of the Section, Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor, http://www.moital.gov.il/NR/exeres/6E253665-892F-4453-9198-ED8BC963D7E8,frameless.htm (last visited Feb. 21, 2013).
 Foreign Workers Law ch. D3.
 Guide for Migrant Workers, supra note 13.
 Entry into Israel Law §§ 2(3) & 3(3).
 Id. § 3A.
 Id. § 4.
 Foreign Workers Law § 6A.
 Foreign Workers (Transfer of a Foreign Worker among Employers that are Manpower Companies in the Construction Sector) Regulations 5776-2006, Kovetz Hatakanot (Subsidiary Legislation) 5776 No. 6477, p. 735.
 Id. § 2.
 Id. § 3.
 H.C. 4542/02 Kav LaOved v. Israel’s Government ¶ 62 (decision rendered Mar. 30, 2006), State of Israel: The Court Authority, http://elyon1.court.gov.il/files/02/420/045/O28/02045420.o28.pdf.
 Id. (decision rendered Mar. 12, 2009), http://elyon1.court.gov.il/files/02/420/045/o51/02045420.o51.pdf.
 Gilad Natan, Non-Israelis in Israel (Foreigners, Refugees, Infiltrators and Asylum Seekers), Status Report, 2010–2011, at 2, (Knesset Information and Research Center, Dec. 13, 2011), http://www.knesset.gov.il/ mmm/data/pdf/m02986.pdf (in Hebrew).
 Foreign Workers Law § M.
 Temporary Arrangement for the Grant of Status to Children Who Stay Illegally, Their Parents and Siblings Who Stay in Israel, Prime Minister’s Office (Aug. 1, 2010), http://www.pm.gov.il/PMO/Archive/Decisions/ 2010/08/des2183.htm (in Hebrew).
 Frequently Asked Questions, Guide for Migrant Workers, Israel Government Portal, http://www.gov.il/ FirstGov/TopNavEng/EngSituations/ESMigrantWorkersGuide/ESMWGFaq/ (last visited Feb. 21, 2013).
Last Updated: 09/11/2013