Israel Breaks Up Foreign Worker Couples by Denying Employment Permits

The population authority is increasing pressure on caregivers to report on their relationships and insists that one member of a couple leave Israel if the other wants an extended work permit

A caregiver from the Philippines, Angelica, shows a photo of her son on her phone, July 2017.
A caregiver from the Philippines, Angelica, shows a photo of her son on her phone, July 2017. Gil Eliahu

Angelica (not her real name) is a 30-year-old caregiver from the Philippines – and if she wants to keep her job, she’s not allowed to conduct a romantic relationship. When her 9-month-old son was 2 months old, Angelica was forced to leave him with her family in the Philippines. She hasn’t seen him since.

For a foreign caregiver in Israel, relationships and family life aren’t possible. Most of these workers are from Asia and Eastern Europe; they come to save money to support their families. The work is demanding with few hours of rest and almost no vacation. Those who do manage to conduct a relationship are forced to hide it. If the Population, Immigration and Border Authority discovers it, the employees may well lose their jobs.

The workers’ rights group Kav La’Oved has received reports that the population authority’s pressure on foreign workers to report romantic relationships has grown in recent months. At the authority’s order, the agencies responsible for foreign caregivers have begun requiring pregnant workers or new mothers to provide details on the baby’s father. In some cases, the authority has also pressured employers to provide information on caregivers’ relationships.

If the authority learns of a romantic relationship between two foreign workers, it requires one of them to leave Israel as a condition for extending the other’s work permit. In most cases, requests from the caregivers’ clients, who often become emotionally attached to their caregivers, don’t help.

A foreign caregiver walks alongside an elderly lady in Ra'anana.
Alon Ron

For its part, the population authority says its policy has always been — and it has never been hidden — that a couple cannot work together in Israel. The goal is to prevent their settling down in the country, and foreigners coming to work in Israel are aware of this rule, the authority says. “We act in reasonable ways to ensure that this policy is implemented without harming the couple’s privacy,” it says.

Pregnant, then fired

Angelica came to Israel three years ago. She met a man who works as a caregiver and the two became a couple. Early last year she discovered she was pregnant and was soon fired. The population authority asked Angelica for details on the father, but she refused because she knew he was married to another woman in the Philippines.

A month later, she found a new job as a caregiver for an elderly woman. The agency that coordinates between patients and foreign workers — and does the paperwork for securing work permits — asked her for information on her baby’s father and their relationship. Without such information, she could not receive a new work permit, the agency said.

Angelica gave in and supplied the father’s details. Two months later her employer received a letter from the population authority saying she could not be issued a new work permit because the father was still working in Israel.

The authority set a condition for the work permit: One of the two parents must leave Israel. Angelica told the authority she was no longer in contact with the father and he wasn’t supporting their son. To renew her permit, she had to sign a declaration stating that if she again conducted a romantic relationship, she would report it within a week. The authority even required her elderly employer to provide a statement on Angelica’s romantic relationships.

Angelica says she’s a devoted employee whose privacy is being invaded. “I take one day off a month, sometimes even less,” she says. “I’m always working 24 hours, seven days a week.”

As she puts it, “I’m angry; it’s unfair. I’m a human being; it’s normal to want a relationship. Why does the agency ask about my private life? Why do they need to know if I’m in a relationship or not? It’s not connected to my work.”

Rajav, a caregiver from India, July 2017.
Moti Milrod

Such efforts by the population authority to prevent relationships seem to have increased significantly. In 2005, Kav La’Oved, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, the Hotline for Migrant Workers, women’s group Na’amat and Physicians for Human Rights petitioned the High Court of Justice against the National Insurance Institute, the Labor Ministry and the regulations on pregnant foreign workers.

The regulations required a foreign worker who gave birth to leave Israel with the baby within three months, but the mother was allowed to return to Israel to work without the child. The High Court ruled in 2011 that this regulation was unconstitutional, saying it violated a foreign worker’s right to be a parent.

In the decision, Justice Ayala Procaccia added that the regulation forced a pregnant foreign worker “to choose between two diktats: one — to leave the country with her child because she gave birth and to forfeit the remainder of her work permit; or two — to return to Israel to continue working without her child, leaving it in the care of others overseas.”

The High Court also ruled that the authorities had to set new procedures to meet the government’s policy on foreign workers without causing unreasonable harm to the worker.

After the ruling, the population authority softened the regulation. The Entry into Israel Law lets foreign workers remain in Israel for five years and three months with the possibility of extending their residency permit. The authority changed the regulation to allow a legal foreign worker who gave birth during this period to remain in Israel with her child until the work permit expired.

If the permit was extended and the woman gave birth after working more than the five years and three months of the initial permit, she was then required to leave the country and return without the child if she wanted to extend her stay. In addition, she was only allowed to work for her last employer.

The new regulation stated that if her “partner/husband/father of the child was a foreign citizen, an employee of the authority will ascertain that he is not in Israel. If it is found that the partner/husband/father of the child is in Israel, one of the couple will be required to leave Israel.”

Also, the regulations for employing foreign workers explicitly state that such workers will not be allowed to enter Israel or cannot remain working in Israel if they have a parent, sibling or child living in the country. “First-degree relatives residing at the same time [in Israel] encourages settling down in Israel,” the regulations state.

Still, caregivers have said that in the past the population authority did not demand to know who the baby’s father was, and did not ask employers or foreign workers for information on workers’ relationships.

The father doesn’t want to leave

Nicole (not her real name) is also a caregiver from the Philippines. She has been in Israel for nine years. A year after she arrived, she met another caregiver and they began meeting on their weekly day off. Five and a half years ago their daughter was born. Nicole flew with her to the Philippines, left her there with her family, and came back to Israel to work. She says no one asked her who the father was.

A foreign caregiver and her patient, 2011.
Alon Ron

Their second daughter was born eight months ago. Nicole took her to the Philippines and left her with her family. But this time, the authorities required her to provide the father’s details if she wanted a re-entry permit into Israel. Soon after she returned, the population authority informed her that it would not extend her work permit because the father was still in Israel.

Nicole was called in for a talk with a social worker, and at the request of the population authority, she provided information about her partner. She says she signed a false statement – at the recommendation of the social worker – stating she was no longer in contact with the father. Nicole says they meet once a month on her only day off. She says she tried to convince her partner to leave Israel, but he has refused.

“It’s important to me to stay with my employer until the end,” she says. “I’m very attached to her. I don’t want to leave her; I know it will hurt her a lot.”

Kav La’Oved has received a long list of similar complaints in recent months, some now the subject of legal proceedings. In one case, a foreign caregiver from the Philippines says a population authority official went through her documents without permission to find out who the father of her baby was. The official found his details and told the caregiver her partner would have to leave Israel if she wanted a permit to return to the country after she brought her son to the Philippines.

New Delhi must approve it

A caregiver from India who has been in Israel three and a half years lost his passport and the Indian Embassy issued him a new one. When he asked the authorities to renew his work permit using his new passport, his request was denied. It seems the population authority suspected he was married when he arrived in Israel and had not reported it.

He submitted a statement from the Indian Embassy saying he was single, but that wasn’t good enough. He also provided a notarized document from his home region in India stating he was single. The population authority demanded he have the Israeli Embassy in New Delhi approve the document. He says he doesn’t know why the authority suspects him of being married when he came to Israel, but he thinks it may have heard about a relationship he once had with a foreign worker in Israel.

“This is a very cynical approach that has been overruled by the Supreme Court — that these people are merely tools for the benefit of the nursing-care patients, not human beings,” says Michal Tadjer, an attorney with Kav La’Oved. “These are young workers. To take away from them the right to conduct romantic and sexual relationships is a very objectifying way to treat them.”

She adds: “They invade the workers’ privacy and check what they’re doing in their free time. The entire model of their employment takes away every sign of a personal life. Usually the only thing they have is to conduct a relationship at most once a week, and they’re taking that from them too.”