High-tech Entrepreneurs Seeking Opportunities in Israel Slam Into Bureaucratic Wall

Stringent visa policies hamper tech companies' efforts to set up shop in Israel, businessmen tell WSJ.

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A view of Tel Aviv, August 2014.
A view of Tel Aviv, August 2014.Credit: Dreamstime
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Haaretz

Foreign high-tech entrepreneurs are increasingly eager to take their business to Israel, but claim that Israel's immigration rules stifle their intentions.

According to a report by the Wall Street Journal, foreign entrepreneurs are practically unable to get work visas; as result, many have to leave the country every few months to renew their tourist visas and go through time-consuming security checks at the airport.

"I have real trouble explaining what I do when traveling," said Bob Singor, from Holland, co-founder and chief technology officer at Elephone, a startup developing a social network-based phone directory.

"The security checks just drag on and on," he complained to the Journal.

The tourist visa carries with it additional difficulties: Without a work visa, entrepreneurs can't register their companies in Israel and open a business bank account.

Entrepreneurs are not the only ones complaining of Israeli bureaucracy; multinational tech companies, seeking to employ foreign nationals in their offices in Israel, also said their efforts are foiled by stringent immigration policy.

According to Tzachi Weisfeld, a senior director in Microsoft Corp, who works from offices just north of Tel Aviv, there is a need for talent the local labor market cannot offer.

"To take the next step ahead we need some more diversity," he told the Journal.

According to the report, while it is fairly easy for Jewish foreigners who don't seek citizenship to get a one-year renewable work visa, for non-Jews it is much more difficult. Israel also offers an "expert worker" visa program, but tech workers and entrepreneours are rarely eligible for it.

According to the Journal, Israel's Economy Ministry and the Tel Aviv municipality are attempting to change the situation, and are pushing for the forming of a "startup visa," tailored for foreign entrepreneurs and tech workers who wish to work for local firms.

But the legislation has been in the works for over three years. While the Interior Ministry said there is "no delay" regarding the initiative, industry people were of a different opinion.

"It is stuck in bureaucracy," Hila Oren, chief executive and founder of Tel Aviv Global, told the Journal.

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