Israel Seeks to Fine African Asylum Seekers’ Employers

The tax would ostensibly encourage employers to hire Israelis and discourage asylum seekers from settling in the country.

Ilan Lior
Ilan Lior
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Asylum seekers in Tel Aviv’s Hatikva neighborhood.
Asylum seekers in Tel Aviv’s Hatikva neighborhood. Credit: Alon Ron
Ilan Lior
Ilan Lior

For the first time, the government is looking to impose a special tax on the employment of asylum seekers.

The proposal was prepared before last week’s High Court of Justice ruling barring the government from sending asylum seekers to the detention facility in Holot.

The tax on employing asylum seekers has been the same as that on legal foreign workers, but if the Knesset approves the government’s proposal, it will soon be significantly higher.

In agriculture, for instance, the proposed tax is 20 percent of an asylum seeker’s salary, compared with 10 percent for legal foreign workers. In construction, industrial firms and ethnic restaurants, the number would be 25 percent, compared with 15 percent for legal foreign workers. In other areas the numbers would be 30 percent and 20 percent respectively.

Employers would not be allowed to deduct the tax from an asylum seeker’s salary.

In its explanatory notes to the proposal, to be submitted as part of the Economic Arrangements Bill accompanying the annual budget, the government said it seeks to increase the cost of employing asylum seekers, both to encourage employers to hire Israelis and to discourage asylum seekers from settling here. It added that currently, asylum seekers can be hired more cheaply than legal foreign workers because various fees must be paid to obtain a permit for a legal foreign worker.

The Finance Ministry says the new tax will earn the state about 100 million shekels ($27 million) a year, based on the assumption that about 75 percent of asylum seekers will find jobs, that they will earn the minimum wage, and that there will be “active and effective” enforcement of the law. But in practice, the existing tax on asylum seekers is rarely collected, and employers who fail to pay it are very rarely punished.

There are around 44,000 asylum seekers from Eritrea and Sudan in Israel. Technically, their visas bar them from working, but the state long ago promised the High Court that it wouldn’t enforce the ban as long as conditions in their home countries made it impossible to deport them.

Kav LaOved, an organization that assists foreign workers and asylum seekers, assailed the government’s proposal. Based on experience, the new tax won’t deter employers from hiring asylum seekers, it will merely harm the asylum seekers, said attorney Hanny Ben-Israel.

“Our wide experience with imposing taxes on employers to deter them from hiring shows that in practice, these taxes are usually transferred to the workers,” she said.

Though by law, asylum seekers are supposed to receive minimum wage and all mandatory benefits, they often receive far less, she added.

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