The Population and Immigration Authority is making it difficult for foreign nursing care workers to get the deposits they are entitled to when they leave the country.
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The law requires the nursing care agencies responsible for making National Insurance Institute payments for these foreign workers to also make monthly deposits on their behalf in lieu of pension and severance payments into a separate bank account. The nursing care workers can only receive this money when they leave Israel for good.
Recently, however, many workers have been having trouble getting the money set aside for them. Reports collected by the NGO Worker’s Hotline show that dozens of nursing care workers have left Israel in recent months without receiving their money, while others were given a hard time before they were able to get it.
There are some 60,000 foreign nursing care workers in Israel, 80 percent of them women. The sum of the deposit varies from worker to worker, but in most cases it’s a few hundred shekels (somewhere around $100) a month, constituting around 15 percent of their wage. The population authority regulation states, “A foreign worker who leaves Israel for non-temporary reasons is eligible to receive the funds that were deposited for him, with the addition of profits and the deduction of management fees and income tax at the rate of 15 percent.” If the worker overstays his visa, the state has the right to deduct part of these funds up to 100 percent if he violates his visa for more than half a year.
The regulation states that every worker must tell the personnel agency that he plans to leave Israel and the agency is required to help him submit his application to receive his deposit. The request must be submitted by the worker between 10 to 30 days before he leaves the country. The request can be made by filling out an online form on the authority’s website or by sending an email with a different form, accompanied by copies of his passport and flight ticket. The authority examines the request and issues a payment order, a copy of which is also sent to the bank.
The worker can receive the money at Ben-Gurion Airport after he crosses the border control counter or after he returns to his native country. If the worker does not withdraw his money within seven years, it goes to the administrator general and is used to treat small children with no legal status in Israel.
To fill out the form, the worker must submit the account number where his funds have been deposited, but the workers don’t know the number and have a problem getting it. Moreover, the form is only in Hebrew, even though most of the nursing care workers don’t speak Hebrew well enough to fill it out. The authority instructs the workers to go to the personnel agencies for help, but many agencies don’t know how to help the workers get their deposits. Another problem is that even when the authority issues a payment order, it or the personnel agency might refuse to give it to the worker.
State bureaucracy plants obstacles
As a result, for example, a worker from Nepal expecting to leave Israel this week after a decade had a hard time getting the permit to withdraw her money, around 1,800 shekels. The Worker’s Hotline tried to help her and contacted the worker’s nursing care agency, which responded that it didn’t know how to withdraw the money. To fill out the form, the worker asked the authority for her account number, but the authority said it doesn’t give out bank account details to the workers. Authority clerks referred her back to her agency, which once again said it had no clue how to help her.
At this point the worker filled out the form manually, attached the required documents and sent it to the authority’s email. The authority responded that the worker isn’t allowed to submit the request for the money, only her personnel agency can. Even after everything was finalized, the agency refused to give the crucial payment order to the worker.
Idit Lebovitch, the Worker’s Hotline’s coordinator for foreign caregivers, said this wasn’t a unique occurrence. “What we’ve heard from many workers who’ve approached us, after they had unfortunately already left the country, is that when they contacted the nursing agency and asked about their deposited money, the agency simply told them they’d get it at the airport. They didn’t explain how they were supposed to get it and that they need a document from the population authority to withdraw it. The workers went to the bank branch and the bank refused to give them the money because they didn’t have the document.”
Lebovitch blames the population authority. “It seems that the deposit regulations issued by the authority are trying to pose as many difficulties as possible for the nursing care workers and make them leave Israel without getting the money due them,” she said. “The regulation has inherent technical difficulties, like the option of submitting the request in Hebrew only and only by email, along with the bureaucratic difficulties that make the process of withdrawing the money difficult, if not impossible. I wonder if the state is trying to use these workers’ money to increase its revenues.”
The population authority responded by saying, “The deposits unit of the Population and Immigration Authority is responsible for dealing with the deposit accounts of over 43,000 foreign workers and is meticulous about providing courteous and efficient service to every applicant, whether it’s the foreign worker himself or the organizations or other applicants. In examining the specific case described, it was found that the answer about who is meant to make the application was given in error.
“Deposit money is paid regularly at Ben-Gurion Airport to eligible workers, so long as the request is made in time and is found to be valid. If the request is not made in time or if circumstances are discovered that do not allow the payment to be made when the worker leaves Israel, the payment is not made at Ben-Gurion Airport but to the worker’s account abroad, once the request is approved.”
With regard to the deficiencies in the process of getting the funds, the authority said, “The authority is working to translate the relevant documents, including the online form on the website, into the many languages relevant to the foreign workers. In addition, the Population and Immigration Authority is working constantly to expand the remote services available to the public and to making services accessible online. As such, the service in the deposits unit is also available online, including by email. At the same time, the authority is examining other options for making the unit’s services accessible to foreign workers. In any case, it should be stressed that in accordance with authority regulations, the foreign worker’s employer is supposed to help him submit his request to the deposits unit.”