Can't Get Visa Because of Long Lines? No Penalty

Responding to complaints about long lines to renew visas, immigration authority promises not to take legal action against affected asylum seekers or their employers.

Israel won’t take any legal steps against asylum seekers who have been unable to renew their visas due to long lines at Interior Ministry offices, the ministry’s Population, Immigration and Border Authority announced on Wednesday.

It also won’t take any steps against employers of asylum seekers whose visas have lapsed, the authority pledged.

Many asylum seekers complain they have been unable to renew their visas for a long time. As a result, employers are afraid to hire them, and some asylum seekers have even been fired. Most of the asylum seekers come from Eritrea or Sudan.

“With regard to visa renewals, we know there are some people who haven’t gotten a response,” Moti Berkowitz, the authority’s representative, told a meeting of the Knesset Committee on Foreign Workers on Wednesday. “We’re nearing a full solution. Until then, we’ll deal with each case on its merits. If we find a business with an employee whose visa has lapsed, but who hasn’t renewed it because he stood in line [at the ministry and didn’t get in], we won’t take any enforcement measures against either the worker or the employer.”

He said that two new Interior Ministry offices specializing in visas for African asylum seekers would soon open in Hadera and Ramat Gan, in addition to the one that opened two weeks ago in Tel Aviv.

“The government’s policy, whose goal is to embitter asylum seekers’ lives so that they’ll leave voluntarily, is coming back at us like a boomerang,” charged committee chairwoman Michal Rosin (Meretz). “We’re all paying the price: law-abiding employers who are forced to give up essential workers, asylum seekers who find themselves with no income and no ability to pay their rent and residents of south Tel Aviv, who suffer the effects when additional hundreds of helpless asylum seekers are thrown into the streets.”

Attorney Eliezer Hazan, who chairs the Israel Bar Association’s committee on migration, concurred. “We have to tell the truth: This is a policy to make asylum seekers’ lives miserable,” he said.

Representatives of hoteliers and restaurant owners also blasted the government’s policy, saying the hold-up in visa renewals made it difficult for them to hire asylum seekers.

Shai Berman, director of The Israeli Restaurants and Bars Association, said that some 10,000 asylum seekers are currently employed in restaurants, including about 3,000 as cooks, and they fill “a tremendous shortage” of kitchen workers. “We’re dependent on them,” he said, claiming that Israelis aren’t interested in doing these jobs. “There is no local solution for the employment problem in these professions.”

Aside from employers’ fear of hiring workers with lapsed visas, Berman continued, it is hard to buy medical insurance for such employees. Additionally, the state has never explained how employers should handle severance pay for asylum seekers sent to the open detention facility in Holot under a law enacted three months ago.

Emanuel, an Eritrean asylum seeker, told the committee that after waiting for hours at the Interior Ministry’s Tel Aviv office, he finally managed to renew his visa — but only for one month. He was told he needed additional documentation proving he is married with children to secure a longer visa.

Berkowitz said the current policy is to give women six-month visas and men four-month visas, unless the applicant has been ordered to report to Holot within 30 days. About 1,200 asylum seekers are currently being held at Holot, he said, and another 700 at a closed facility in Saharonim.

In another two weeks, the High Court of Justice will begin hearing a petition against the new law, which allows asylum seekers who enter the country illegally to be held at Holot for up to a year.

Daniel Bar On