Beijing and Jerusalem are in the final stage of forging a deal to let 20,000 Chinese construction workers come to Israel over the next few years, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon said Tuesday.
Kahlon made the announcement during a meeting with Israeli construction executives.
To seal the deal, an Israeli delegation left for China on Monday, including the Finance Ministry’s housing chief, Avigdor Yitzhaki, and the Construction and Housing Ministry’s director general, Asher Armoni.
The draft is expected to be completed by Thursday. This is Yitzhaki’s second trip to China in the past two weeks. The final agreement will need the approval of both the Israeli and Chinese governments.
Under the deal, the workers would arrive in several groups. The first group of 4,000 workers would arrive within the next six months. Dates have not been set for the rest.
Currently 9,500 foreign construction workers are in Israel, including 3,500 Chinese nationals. Construction firms consider Chinese employees particularly skilled and efficient.
As of last year, the Chinese workers were earning an average monthly salary of 24,000 shekels ($6,220), more than double Israel’s average wage. Other construction workers are from Moldova, Turkey, Bulgaria and Romania, and the industry also employs tens of thousands of West Bank Palestinians.
The new Chinese workers would be expected to considerably increase Israel’s construction output.
A deal would be the fruit of several years of work by Jerusalem. Beijing was reluctant in the past, but now it appears the Chinese are interested in an agreement they rejected two years ago.
This is likely to undermine a previous effort to let foreign construction firms operate in Israel. Israel had pushed that effort as another way to bring in foreign construction workers, after failing to sign an agreement with China.
As part of that plan, the finance and housing ministries announced two months ago that six foreign companies would be launching operations in Israel, including five Chinese outfits.
Since 2011 there have been two legal ways for foreign construction workers to be employed in Israel – via bilateral agreements and through foreign construction companies. These measures were legislated to prevent the abuse of foreign workers.
But the Chinese workers currently in Israel predate these agreements and are employed independently. They were originally supposed to be employed for only five years, but their permits were extended due to a manpower shortage.
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