The government announced Tuesday night that it was also granting 15,000 work permits to Palestinian Authority Arabs to work in Israel, many of them in construction as well. There are already some 70,000 PA Arabs working in Israel legally. Officials said that the granting of permits would help ensure that new construction projects would be able to draw on a pool of sufficient workers, while helping to ease the economic pressure in the PA.
This was the first expansion of the PA worker visa program since last year’s terror attack at the Beit Panorama office building in Tel Aviv, when the program was suspended. Speaking Wednesday, Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who voted in favor of issuing the permits, said that the Beit Panorama terrorist was an exception to the rule; although the resident of the village of Dura near Chevon did have a work permit that allowed him to enter Israel, he was one of very few who had taken advantage of the permit to carry out a terror attack.
“History has proven that misuse of these permits is very rare,” said Bennett. “Very few Palestinians who work in Israel to support their families carry out terror attacks against Jews. This is the right thing to do from an economic and security standpoint. It’s a win-win for both Israelis and Palestinians.”
Earlier Tuesday, the government announced that 1,000 construction workers from Ukraine are set to come and work in Israel beginning next year, the first wave of some 15,000 that will eventually come to work here. The workers who will be arriving over the next year are the result of an agreement signed by Israel with the Ukrainian government to supply as many as 15,000 due in the next 12 months.
Israel has been suffering from a major shortage of construction workers, which many officials believe has been hampering government plans to expand projects to make housing more affordable. The gap has been filled until now by thousands of Palestinian Authority construction workers, and plans had been drawn up to bring in tens of thousands over the next year. However, numerous MKs and ministers have repeatedly postponed finalization of those projects, claiming that Palestinians are a security risk and that they cannot be relied upon for steady work due to closures in the wake of terror attacks.
Israel has been negotiating with various governments, especially China, for the supply of construction workers, but the agreement with Ukraine is the largest with any European country. Currently, there are 4,000 workers from Europe laboring on Israeli projects, the result of bilateral agreements with other European countries.
Among the reason for Ukraine’s willingness to sign the agreement is the high unemployment – at a rate of 13 percent – in the country. In the construction trade, unemployment has been as high as 40 percent in the past several years.
According to the International Migrants Center in Tel Aviv, there are 81,500 legal foreign workers in Israel today, the majority of them working as caretakers for the elderly and disabled. An additional 21,000 work in agriculture, while only 8,200 work in construction. Besides these, there are about 148,000 foreign workers in Israel illegally, among them 91,000 whose visa (tourist or work) has expired. An additional 41,477 are illegal migrants from Sudan and Eritrea who claim refugee status, but whose status has yet to be clarified in court.