Law Forces Asylum-seekers to Set Aside Fifth of Salary, to Be Paid Out When They Leave Israel

Israel says aim is to make employing asylum-seekers more expensive for businesses; human rights organizations warn that the obligation will exacerbate poverty.

Ilan Lior
Ilan Lior
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Asylum seekers at the Holot detention center in Israel's south, December 2016.
Asylum seekers at the Holot detention center in Israel's south, December 2016.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz
Ilan Lior
Ilan Lior

The Knesset plenum on Tuesday passed an amendment to the anti-infiltration law that requires African asylum-seekers to deposit 20 percent of their salary into a fund that will only become available to them when they leave Israel. The law will take effect from the beginning of April.

The employers of African asylum-seekers will be required to set aside an additional sum equal to 16 percent of the salary of the asylum-seeker. A substantial portion of the fund will be liable for confiscation if the asylum-seeker does not leave the country by the designated date.

The social affairs and finance ministers will be permitted to reduce the amount of money to be deposited, though the law stipulates that a minimum of 16.5 percent of the salary must be deposited by the worker and an additional 12.5 percent by the employer.

The fund was approved by the Knesset in a snap vote in December 2014, at the same time as it passed the third amendment to the anti-infiltration law. According to the law, the fund will begin to operate six months after its establishment by order of the Finance Ministry. Bank Mizrahi Tefahot won the tender to operate the fund in December 2015, a year after the law was approved, but the Finance Ministry has yet to issue the order.

In order to accelerate its operation, the government approved an amendment to the law about six months ago, shortening the time required for the fund to begin operation. The purpose of the law, according to The Population, Immigration and Border Authority, is to make the employment of asylum-seekers more expensive and to give the workers an incentive to leave Israel.

Human rights organizations have warned that the obligation to set aside one-fifth of their salary every month will exacerbate poverty among asylum-seekers and cause a worsening of the situation in south Tel Aviv.

“We call on you to prevent the critical results of operating the deposit fund, which will exacerbate the situation in the weaker areas where the asylum-seekers live, and is liable to turn the neighborhoods into an area of humanitarian crisis. Asylum-seekers are liable to find themselves in the street, children are liable to starve, female asylum-seekers are liable to resort to prostitution, etc.,” the organizations wrote to Interior Minister Arye Dery.

The law shortening the time period until the establishment of the fund was approved by Deputy Attorney General Dina Zilber and Interior Ministry legal adviser Yehuda Zameret. But human rights organizations are stressing that Knesset legal adviser Eyal Yinon and Interior Ministry legal adviser Tomer Rosner both warned in late 2014 that it could create constitutional problems.

“The committee must examine carefully whether this combination of instructions could bring a legally employed infiltrator to below the minimum required for a dignified life, in accordance with the ruling of the High Court of Justice, and thereby bring about the rejection of this arrangement,” Yinon wrote.

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