'Dozens to Hundreds': How Israel Deports Foreign Worker Couples

Charel, a 28-year-old Indian caretaker, was recently not allowed to reenter Israel because authorities discovered she is in a romantic relationship with the father of her child, also a foreign worker. Her case is just one of many

Charel and her daughter, August 2018.
Meged Gozani

The state said on Thursday it has deported “dozens to hundreds” of foreign workers who had become couples in Israel in recent years.

The representative of the Population and Immigration Authority told a Jerusalem court that a romantic relationship could harm a foreign worker’s work.

The authority defended the ban it imposes on foreign workers from forming couple relationships in a hearing on the deportation of a nursing caretaker in the Jerusalem Appeals Court. While saying it had deported “dozens to hundreds” of such couples, it did not give the precise number.

The authority’s official said foreign workers come to Israel to provide a service and should not form romantic relationships. “This policy is known to the foreign workers, they know they come here to provide a service to Israel, which pays them,” she said. They did not come here “to have a life and find partners,” she said.

The authority doesn’t explicitly forbid foreign workers from forming couples, but bans two first-degree family members from staying in Israel at the same time, as this is seen as “encouraging the workers to settle down.”

The authority official told the court that romantic relationships could harm the workers’ work. “We find recently that elderly patients object to their caretakers’ being in a couple relationship. I can assume this could substantially damage the care they give their patients,” she said.

The court heard the case of Charel, 28, and her partner, both caretakers for the elderly, who had a baby eight months ago. The two came to Israel legally in 2017 and want to make a short trip back to India to leave the baby with her mother. The authority demanded that Charel’s partner, who has been in Israel for 18 months, leave the country as a condition for giving her a return visa.

Kav LaOved – Workers’ Hotline, which filed the appeal, said the authority’s “benighted policy constituted a dehumanization of migrant workers by denying them basic human needs like love and friendship relations.”

Lawyer Meytal Russo of Kav LaOved, who represented the couple, said, “The Interior Ministry vehemently defended a policy that is unparalleled in the world – denying workers relationships only because they are migrants. Beyond the arguments that they may want to settle down, the ministry claims that relationships among migrants damage their work and their patients. … This doesn’t only violate Israeli law but the most basic human moral standards.”

She said the state’s lawyers sign off on sentences like “there’s a suspicion they are forming a family unit’ as if a family unit is no less than a terror cell.”

Lawyer Oded Feller of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel said, “In all my years of dealing with migrants’ rights I have never seen such a spectacle, which so blatantly reflects the lack of empathy to work migrants.” He said one could feel the state’s “rage at those who dare maintain a human life and don’t devote themselves to nursing 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”

Haaretz reported on Wednesday that the authority has toughened its stand toward foreign workers who form couple relationships. Until now, when the authority learned of such a relationship it insisted that one partner leave Israel as a condition for extending the other’s visa, but apparently backed down every time an appeal was filed against this demand.

According to Charel and her partner, they do not live together, are not planning to settle in Israel and haven’t even seen each other much in recent months. Each of them lives with the elderly person they care for and they meet once a week or once in two weeks on their days off.

Charel told Haaretz, “I’m supporting my mother and my brothers and sisters. I paid $12,000 to come to Israel and I still haven’t made back what I spent to get here. I’m not asking anything from Israel, I just want to give my baby, who’s eight months old, to my mother in India and come back to work here."