Refugees Tel Aviv 0ct 2010 Natan Dvir
Asylum seekers in Tel Aviv displaying their UN refugee registration cards. Photo by Natan Dvir
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In a surprising move, the Interior Ministry has changed its policy toward asylum seekers in Israel, Haaretz learned on Sunday, effectively forbidding them from taking employment while in Israel.

Last week, the Population and Immigration Authority began added a new clause to asylum seekers' visas which states: "This temporary permit should not be treated as a work permit."

The move, according to employers of asylum seekers, was unannounced and unexpected, prompting many businesses to hastily contact various aid organizations to find out if they are in breach of new regulations.

Even more alarmed of the possible consequences of the sudden change in policy, many asylum seekers, arriving for their usual visa renewal, were surprised to find the new clause, which could effectively deteriorate their lifestyle from its already shaky standings.

While, until last week, asylum seekers were never officially permitted to work in Israel, authorities, including the Interior Ministry and the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry, avoided enforcing labor laws on those seeking asylum in Israel as a result of their special status.

In response to a previous appeal to the High Court on the matter by the Refugee Rights Clinic, the Interior Ministry pledged to not fine businesses for the employment of asylum seekers as long as the issue was legally pending.

The state also committed to advise employers of its intent to fine 30 days in advance.

The Population and Immigration Authority released a statement in response to last week's change, saying that "the demand to enforce the prohibition to employ foreign workers was ratified in a government decision and will be implemented in the coming months."

"Since Israeli businesses were unclear for a long period of time as to whom they can or cannot employ, a great confusion was created and the decision is meant to rectify that situation," the statement added, saying that it was adding a clause to the asylum seekers' visas that already existed on tourist and foreign workers visas.