Not along ago, an Israeli firm purchased some heavy equipment from a foreign company and the contract included a clause calling for that company to send over someone to install it. A few months ago, the installation crew arrived in Israel on tourist visas and began work.
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They were surprised when inspectors from the Interior Ministry's Population and Immigration Authority showed up. The inspectors arrested the foreigners for working in Israel without permits, deported them and issued a directive banning them from entering Israel for 10 years. They were kept in detention before departing, and the Israeli company was also fined for illegally employing them.
The work was frozen, the contract was violated and it was necessary to apply for permits for a new group of workers to complete the installation.
This incident might be surprising because it reflects a rather rare occurrence in the business world, affecting foreign citizens who visit Israel at the invitation of local businesses for a short time, in order to provide some form of service: repair work, consulting, lecturing, training or supervision, for example. Usually the foreign experts are citizens of countries that have had a visa-waiver agreement with Israel, and they have been able to enter Israel in the past without any permits, relying just on the tourist visa they automatically receive at the airport upon arrival.
The new regulations, which went into effect in July after a trial period, now demand that all such experts from abroad – including those arriving from countries with visa-waiver agreements, who come to fulfill tasks for limited periods that require specific expertise or skills – receive a work permit and the appropriate B/1 work visa; they are no longer allowed to enter as tourists.
At the same time, the Interior Ministry has established new, expedited procedures for issuing such permits to foreign experts. This is the first time the ministry's immigration authority has set out clear guidelines regarding the sort of work that demands such visas.
This means, for example, that an employee of an American company must first have the proper work permit in hand before arriving in Israel to train employees or supervise establishment of a new department at a local branch of his firm.
Under the new policy the immigration authority will impose harsh sanctions against any Israeli individual or company that employs a foreigner who does not have the required visa.
Tomer Warsha, who specializes in immigration law, says the new policy constitutes a real revolution and presents two main innovations. First, until now the Interior Ministry never defined what sort of short-term employment falls into the work-visa category, so there were gray areas and some confusion. This led many Israeli companies to violate the law, sometimes unknowingly, and to expose themselves to punishment.
Second, the new directives involve receipt of a work permit in an expedited fashion in the case of short business visits by foreign experts, as opposed to the old process, which could take months. Warsha says this is a simple and friendly procedure, which does not require dozens of documents or drawn-out bureaucratic hassles, accompanied by a substantial fee. In addition, the foreign expert can arrive in the country without having physically received the work visa, as long as he receives it soon afterward.
The government did not intend to make business dealings more difficult, rather to introduce proper regulation. Indeed, Warsha explains, it is now possible to receive the required permits within only six days.
There are still some unanswered questions. Warsha says that in response to a query, for example, that the immigration authority said that in the case of a foreigner who arrives for the purposes of business negotiations or to scout out investments – a tourist visa is still acceptable if no work is paid for by the Israeli company with which he or she is in contact.
Foreign journalists coming to cover stories in Israel have their own legal exemption when it comes to visas; they are allowed to enter as tourists and work for up to three months.