Israel Seeks to Overturn Residency Given to Migrant Caretaker in Unprecedented Case

The worker was allowed to stay in the country due to her close relations with the family for which she cared, but the Population and Immigration Authority argues her case could open a new path to immigration

Lee Yaron
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Mendel and Oshra Gabbay.
Mendel and Oshra Gabbay.Credit: Courtesy of the Gabbay family
Lee Yaron

A Filipina caregiver set a legal precedent last month when she was granted resident status in Israel on humanitarian grounds, due to her closeness to the family for whom she worked. 

But on Wednesday, the Population and Immigration Authority appealed the decision to the Supreme Court in an effort to have it reversed.

The Jerusalem District Court based its decision on the worker's ties to the family of the elderly man whom she cared for over a decade, and because she has no family that she is in touch with in the Philippines. The Population Authority claims, however, that the court's decision would create a new path to immigrant status for foreign workers who have come to Israel to work as in-home caregivers and remain for the long term by claiming close ties to the patients’ families.

50-year-old Rotshelle Mendel cared for disabled war veteran Michael Gabbay for 13 years until his death in 2015. Population Authority regulations require that foreign caregivers return to their home countries once their jobs in Israel end, and as a result, the authority revoked Mendel’s work permit. Mendel had developed a close relationship with Gabbay’s family and continued to live with his widow Oshra, and filed a request to remain in Israel on humanitarian grounds. Oshra Gabbay stated that she viewed Mendel as her daughter and that she wants to continue living together.

In 2017, an appeals tribunal denied Mendel’s request and she appealed the decision to the Jerusalem District Court. District Court Judge Arnon Darel granted the appeal and ruled that the case presented “special and exceptional circumstances” and do not represent the case of every foreign worker in the country. The judge cited Mendel’s age and her 17-year legal stay in Israel to support his decision to grant the appeal. He also noted the absence of any contact with relatives in the Philippines or other connections to that country as well as her unique ties to the Gabbay family, based on evidence the family provided. If Mendel were to return to the Philippines, the judge found, it would cause “considerable difficulties,” for the Gabbays.

In appealing to the Supreme Court, the Population Authority said that Judge Darel’s decision was based on “fundamental errors,” as they described them.

“With regard to everything related to foreign workers in the field of custodial nursing care, [the Knesset] chose a clear balance point," the authority wrote in its appeal. It allows for patients to continue to stay with legal caregivers, while giving the country the authority to control who enters the country and settles there. The authority added that the district court ruling struck a different balance, which conflicts with the government policy of limiting the employment of foreign workers in Israel.

“All the more so, it is not interested in their settling in Israel at the end of their maximum period of employment,” the Population Authority said, adding that the ruling would have implications for Israel’s immigration policy and could make it more difficult for the state to permit prolonged periods of employment with one employer.

Mendel had come to Israel knowing that her work permit was for a limited period, the authority argued, and had no legitimate expectation to be able to stay on after her job in Israel ended. Mendel had arrived in the country at the age of 33, after many years in the Philippines, and visited the Philippines four times while living in Israel, the authority noted. She is in touch with her sister who lives in London, and has a brother in the Philippines with whom she does not speak and another brother who is a sailor.

The Tomer Warsha law firm, which has represented Mendel, said in response that the Supreme Court should deny the Population Authority’s appeal from the outset. “The district court issued a highly reasoned, correct and fair ruling," finding a number of reasons to grant Mendel resident status, the firm stated, adding that it expects to prevail in the Supreme Court as well.

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