Israel Bars Asylum Seekers From Most Jobs in Major Cities

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked 'chose to use the discretion the Supreme Court gave her to restrict asylum seekers’ employment to the toughest, most poorly paid jobs in Israel’s labor market,' says NGO head

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Asylum seekers working as street sweepers in Tel Aviv, in January.
Asylum seekers working as street sweepers in Tel Aviv, in January.Credit: Moti Milrod
Bar Peleg
Bar Peleg

Asylum seekers will be barred from most employment opportunities in cities heavily populated by refugees according to new regulations issued by Israel's Interior Ministry on Thursday.

Under the new regulations, asylum seekers who received group protection from deportation will be limited to working in construction, agriculture, institutional caregiving, hotels or restaurants in the listed cities starting in October. The restrictions won’t apply to minors, parents of minors studying in Israeli schools or those over 60.

Precedence for this policy dates back to 2015, when then-Interior Minister Silvan Shalom decided to bar the asylum seekers newly released from the Holot open detention facility (which was later shut down) from working in Tel Aviv and Eilat. Later, Bnei Brak, Petah Tikva, Netanya, Ashdod and Jerusalem were added to the list.

This past October, Justices Daphne Barak-Erez, Isaac Amit and Alex Stein upheld the policy, which now covers all asylum seekers in Israel under the new regulations.

Dr. Ayelet Oz, executive director of the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, said it was “regrettable” that Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, “in the final months of her tenure, chose to use the discretion the Supreme Court gave her to restrict asylum seekers’ employment to the toughest, most poorly paid jobs in Israel’s labor market. After more than a decade of ongoing injustice toward asylum seekers by the state, Minister Shaked is adding insult to injury by limiting their dreams and aspirations and restricting them by law to being Israel’s hewers of wood and drawers of water.”

“I don’t think imposing restrictions on a handful of cities, even if they are major ones ... is draconian or disproportionate in and of itself,” Barak-Erez said, writing for the court. “Granted, Tel Aviv-Jaffa is Israel’s most significant employment center, especially for asylum seekers ... but it isn’t the only city in Israel where it’s possible to live and work.”

Kav LaOved, a labor rights organization that assists asylum seekers, accused the immigration agency of a political move “on the eve of an election.” “After a decade in which it avoided reviewing their asylum requests and dealing harsh blows to them… the authority is now aiming for a wave of layoffs in central cities,” the group said in a statement.

The organization added that the measure will not only harm asylum seekers, who would be forced into “undocumented and exploitative employment,” but also businesses who rely on them for manpower.

Asylum seekers can apply for exceptions if they believe their particular circumstances justify one, while those who have worked in the restaurant business as of June 22 will be allowed to remain at their jobs. Employing an asylum seeker in violation of the regulations will be considered a criminal offense.

The cities in which asylum seekers will no longer be able to work include Tel Aviv, Eilat, Jerusalem, Bnei Brak, Or Yehuda, Bat Yam, Givatayim, Herzliya, Holon, Kiryat Ono, Ramat Gan, Ramat Hasharon, Azor, Kfar Shmaryahu, Netanya, Ashdod and Petah Tikva. Most of those cities are in the greater Tel Aviv area.

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