In Court, Israel Defends Ban on Relationships Between Foreign Workers

Workers Hotline NGO: Population authority speaks of migrants’ ‘family unit’ like they mean ‘terror cell’

Foreign worker mother in Israel holds her daughter.
Moti Milrod

The Population and Immigration Authority has started to defend in court the ban it has imposed on foreign workers forming couple relationships.

When it learns of such a relationship, the authority insists that one partner leave Israel as a condition for extending the work visa of the other one.

Until now, however, it has apparently backed down every time an appeal was filed against this demand. According to Kav LaOved – Worker’s Hotline, in the 13 cases over the past year in which the organization filed an appeal, the authority backed down and allowed both partners to stay in Israel.

But in response to another appeal that Kav LaOved filed this week, the authority did not withdraw but instead filed a response to the Jerusalem appeals tribunal, in which it stated that the two partners in question are foreign nursing workers “who are conducting a relationship that contradicts the respondent’s procedures.”

The response goes on to say, “There is growing concern that the petitioner and the baby’s father are conducting life as a couple and a family in Israel in a manner that violates the authority’s rules.”

A hearing is scheduled for Thursday on the appeal being filed by Charel, 28, from India, who entered Israel legally in early 2017 and wants to make a short trip back to India to leave the baby with her mother. The authority demanded that her partner, a work migrant who has been in Israel for 18 months, leave the country as a condition for giving her and their baby a return visa.

According to the couple, 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’re caring for and they meet every so often on their days off.

“I’m the oldest daughter in my family and everyone in India is counting on me to help them,” 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.

“I see my partner every two or three weeks and we aren’t bothering anyone, I’m always doing my work. Now I haven’t seen him for two months because the woman I’m caring for was sick. I don’t know why they want to separate us, we came to work and that’s what we’re doing. We haven’t done anything wrong.”

Kav LaOved said, “This is a benighted policy that is the ultimate dehumanization of migrant workers in Israel. It’s hard to understand how the hands of the lawyers and the decision makers don’t tremble when they sign off on sentences like, ‘The appellants are living together against the rules,’ or ‘There’s a suspicion they are forming a family unit,’ as if a family unit is no less than a terror cell.”

The population authority doesn’t explicitly forbid relationships between foreign workers, but forbids two first-degree relatives to stay in Israel at the same time.

This ban was set in 2013 as part of the regulations for employing foreign nursing care workers, on that grounds that such a practice “encourages settlement in Israel.” That’s why in cases of foreign workers suspected of living together or having married in Israel, both will have their work permits revoked unless one of them leaves.

“The population authority policy goes against the very human tendency and need to connect,” said Kav LaOved. “The authority is demanding that work migrants choose between their livelihood and their personal lives, family lives and parenthood. This is an immoral and illegal demand.”

As noted, in the past the authority has responded differently. For example, in a similar case in November 2017, when the authority insisted on the departure of one of two foreign partners who had a child together and lived separately with their employers, the authority reversed its stand and allowed them both to stay in Israel after an appeal was filed in court.

“In a reexamination of the request it was found that the worker and the father of the child are not maintaining a family unit. As a result it was decided to approve the request to extend the work permit,” the authority said at the time.

In its appeal on behalf of Charel, Kav LaOved wrote: “Under the respondent’s system, there is no basis for distinguishing between the situation in which family members (such as spouses) entered Israel together, and the situation in which relations occurred between migrant workers after their entry into Israel. As unreasonable as it may sound, the zealousness of the respondent to ‘prevent settlement’ of migrant workers in Israel has led it to think it can condition the validity of the work permits it issues to migrant workers on their refraining from forming romantic ties with other migrant workers.”