Despite Demand, Israel Bars Asylum Seekers From Working as Builders

Yet government’s housing reform stalls over shortage of 34,000 builders,

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

As the cabinet moves to restrict the conditions under which around 50,000 asylum seekers are permitted to work, on Wednesday representatives of the construction industry said 34,000 additional foreign workers are needed in order to meet the government’s building targets.

MK Miri Regev, chairwoman of the Knesset Interior and Environment Committee, said Wednesday she would work to block the government’s planned zoning and building reform because of the difficulties in bringing in the tens of thousands of workers from abroad it required.

According to figures presented to the committee Wednesday, an additional 34,000 workers are needed to meet targets set by the state for the construction of 60,000 new homes a year. Around 200,000 people, including Israelis and Palestinians, work in construction in Israel. This figure includes 5,500 China, Moldovan and Bulgarian nationals. Although the cabinet approved the importation of 8,000 additional workers from abroad, the Foreign Ministry has been hard-put to make the necessary arrangements.

Representatives of real-estate developers told the committee that Chinese nationals are preferred over Bulgarian citizens, since the former are more likely to be skilled in Israeli construction methods.

Deputy Foreign Minister Zeev Elkin told participants in the committee session that the Foreign Ministry was aware of the importance of the issue and gave it very high priority. “There are two agreements, with Bulgaria and with Moldova,” Elkin said, adding, “We brought in about 1,000 workers from Bulgaria. If you wish, we can bring in more. We brought 200 workers in from Moldova, and another round of hiring will take place in two weeks.”

Several weeks ago, Haaretz reported that Israel had refused to sign an agreement with Romania when that country’s government demanded that the workers not be employed in the settlements. Elkin said yesterday that since Romania’s “political demand” had been removed, it was likely that an agreement could be reached about bringing in Romanian workers in the next few months.

“I intend to speak with the prime minister and the interior minister and tell them that there is no sense in promoting the planning and construction law while the government delays progress on construction. I will soon be meeting with the interior minister to discuss the problem,” Regev said.

African asylum seekers stage protestCredit: AFP

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