Israel Mulls Refunding Deduction From Asylum Seekers' Salaries Amid Coronavirus Crisis

With 30,000 suddenly without income, Finance Ministry considers returning all or part of wages taken by state as ‘security deposit’

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An asylum seeker waits at the Population and Immigration Authority office in Bnei Brak, December 25, 2019.
An asylum seeker waits at the Population and Immigration Authority office in Bnei Brak, December 25, 2019.Credit: Moti Milrod
Or Kashti

The Finance Ministry is considering releasing money deducted from the salaries of asylum seekers that is held back as a deposit that they would normally receive when they leave the country.

The ministry is considering the move because many asylum seekers, who until recently worked in the hotel and restaurant industries, among the hardest hit by the coronavirus crisis, have lost their jobs. An estimated 20,000 to 30,000 asylum seekers who are unemployed due to the crisis would be eligible to receive the funds.

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According to Finance Ministry officials “The matter has been considered positively by the relevant officials and the legal feasibility is now under scrutiny.” A source in one of the government ministries involved said: “No one wants to reach a situation where people who lose their jobs turn to other, negative sources of income. We don’t need to imagine cases in which people in this situation stop fearing the implications of their actions, just so they can survive.”

Last week a number of NGOs asked the government to release the funds. A similar request was made by the restauranteurs’ association to Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon.

The various government ministries are looking at a number of possibilities. Sources say that among them are a release of all the money that has accumulated in the deposit, a release of a certain amount of money, the same amount for each worker, or the release of a certain percentage of the money that has accumulated. Asylum seekers might be required to pay for health insurance in case they need medical attention during the period of their unemployment when employers are not required to pay the insurance premiums.

“These are 30,000 people in Israel who lost their source of income,” said an official in one of the government ministries looking into the matter. “These people have no other source of income, unlike Israelis. They cannot receive unemployment benefits or other support from the National Insurance Institute and they have few assets to fall back on. If they don’t have the money to pay rent, they’ll find themselves out on the street, together with their families.”

The official said this is one more difficulty the asylum seekers face – not only the coronavirus itself, but the “lack of a social support framework, language difficulties and little sympathy from the Israeli public.”

According to another official, “There is an urgent need to set a new policy. If there is an instruction to do so, a plan will be made that can help the asylum seekers and refugees. The goal must be first of all to create certainty – for these people to know they’ll have money for the grocery store.”

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