Legally employing asylum seekers – Will an Israeli employer be fined for employing an asylum seeker?

Legally employing asylum seekers in Israel is a complicated issue. The laws and procedures are frequently updated by government and Interior Ministry decisions, so there is considerable confusion about it. Asylum seekers in Israel apply for refugee status in Israel under international conventions to which the State of Israel is a signatory. Asylum seekers are considered illegal infiltrators into Israel by many of the general public and legislators, because some of them (mainly Sudanese and Eritrean citizens) entered Israel illegally through the Israel-Egypt border crossing. However, in the last few years we have seen a significant increase in asylum applications that are filed by citizens of Eastern European countries, particularly citizens of Ukraine and Georgia. Asylum seekers in Israel naturally wish to support themselves, and there are Israeli employers who are looking for workers willing to engage in hard labour which few Israelis want to undertake. The Population and Immigration Authority creates an ambiguity of laws and regulations that makes it difficult for an Israeli employer to understand what is legal and illegal in regard to employing asylum seekers in Israel. Our Law office, Cohen, Decker, Pex and Brosh, a law firm in Jerusalem and Petah Tikva, specializes in issues of immigration to Israel. This article by Joshua Pex will explain what is legal and illegal in the employment of refugees. All information is current at the time the article was published (January 2018). Note: the terms “infiltrator” “asylum seeker” and “refugee” are used interchangeably.

Enforcement of the prohibition on employment of asylum seekers in Israel is ambiguous:

Legally employing asylum seekersAt present (January 1, 2018), the Population and Immigration Authority publishes notices warning that employers of asylum seekers lacking a work permit are liable to criminal charges and fines. The specific charge and the size of the fine are not specified, but the usual charge of employing a foreign worker without a permit is implied. At the same time, the state committed itself to the High Court of Justice as part of the State Attorney’s Office’s response to the Supreme Court not to enforce the prohibition on employing Sudanese or Eritrean refugees. As Judge Edna Arbel notes in her summary: “At the current state of affairs, in addition to the necessary sensitivity to the difficult background of many members of these groups, the State’s interest is in preventing “labor migration” that deviates from those cases in which there is a well-founded fear of persecution – it appears that the position of the State mentioned above, according to which work permits can not be granted, alongside the statement that at this stage no action will be taken against employers, is the proper balance, considering the difficult and sensitive reality created at present”. As a result, the Population Authority’s notices also indicate (in an inconspicuous manner) that it is possible to employ legally asylum seekers and infiltrators lacking a work permit.

What are the types of residence permits that allow or prohibit the employment of asylum seekers?

The Ministry of the Interior provides asylum seekers with permits that allow them to temporarily reside in Israel (not to be confused with an A-5 temporary residence permit) while they process the application for political asylum, under Ministry authority per section 2 (a) 5 of the Entry into Israel Law. These temporary permits are usually granted for a period of 3 months, but are extended repeatedly until the decision regarding the asylum application is made. An asylum application my be in process for several years in Israel pending for the decision. The type of permit granted to the asylum seeker determines their possibilities of legal employment. The difference between permit types is not obvious. A temporary visitor’s permit for an asylum seeker who is not allowed to work in Israel, and a permit for an asylum seeker who has the right to work, even without a work permit, are almost identical. The two permits are formulated so that those not familiar with the intricacies of immigration policy (the general public) will believe that it is forbidden to employ any asylum seeker with a temporary residence permit. The purpose of the Ministry of the Interior’s policy is clear – deterrence of employers from hiring asylum seekers.

What is permitted and what is forbidden when it comes to employing asylum seekers in Israel?

As of today, it is legal to employ asylum seekers and infiltrators with a residence permit which states: “This temporary permit does not constitute a work permit.” Also, refugees released from the “Holot” detention facility are prohibited from living and working in Tel Aviv and Eilat, which is noted on their residence permit. That very prohibition against living and working in a particular geographical area is in fact an admission that these asylum seekers are allowed to live and work in all areas of the State of Israel besides these cities. These permits are common among asylum seekers who arrived several years ago.

It is forbidden to employ asylum seekers whose residence permit has the stamp of “not allowed to work” (permits issued in recent years). Contrary to other restrictions on the employment of refugees, which the government undertook not to enforce before the High Court of Justice, the Population Authority claims to enforce this restriction.

The few asylum seekers who obtained the legal status of a refugee in Israel receive legal work permits (B-1 visa). Obviously, it is perfectly legal to employ the holder of such a permit, anywhere and in any occupation.

When legally employing asylum seekers in Israel:

Every worker in Israel is entitled to work under the same conditions. An asylum seeker, just like an Israeli worker or an expert foreign worker, is entitled to receive National Insurance, health insurance (with a deduction of up to one third of the cost of the insurance, and not more than NIS 1243 from the employee’s salary), severance pay, sick leave, pension funds, and other benefits. It is important to remember that Israeli labor law does not distinguish a “gray” area between legal and illegal employment. If the employer of a foreign worker or asylum seeker deprives them of their rights in violation of labor laws, the same penalties will be expected as applied to those who deny rights to Israeli workers. If you employ a refugee while denying them their rights or failing to report their work and benefits, you will be subject to the same penalties as anyone employing a worker “off the record”.

Contact Cohen, Decker, Pex and Brosh for legal information and assistance regarding immigration to Israel and employment laws.

Legally employing asylum seekers

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