Majority of Illegal Foreign Workers Arrived as Tourists

In 2010, over 100,000 illegal foreign workers overstayed their tourist visas.

Despite years of attempts to reduce the number of illegal foreign workers in Israel, the state has had little success. A new report from the Knesset Research and Information Center obtained by TheMarker reveals immigration authorities may be going about it in the wrong way.

The report states that the majority of illegal foreign workers in Israel in 2010 arrived as tourists and overstayed their tourist visas to find work. But the authorities are expending most of their efforts on the smaller group of illegal workers made up of those who arrived legally with work visas and failed to leave when they expired.

Foreign workers
Alon Ron

In 2010, there were over 100,000 such illegal workers who overstayed their tourist visas, about 60% of the total number of illegal foreign workers, the report states. Only some 14,000 illegal workers, about 20%, came in on a work visa and remained illegally. But the state is concentrating on this latter group, though in 2010 the state deported only 846 of these illegal workers - and removed another 522 illegal tourists. In addition, immigration authorities removed another 1,130 illegal workers, mostly those who entered illegally over the Egyptian border but were not asylum seekers. The remaining groups of illegal workers include those who came in as students, for example, and stayed on.

The Knesset Committee on Foreign Workers will meet today to discuss the effect of such illegal workers, as well as that of legal asylum seekers and others, on the Israeli labor market.

It is much harder to find the illegal tourists than it is to locate those who arrived with work visas. The "tourists" come from a much wider population, have a greater variety of professions and do not live near the concentrations of foreign workers or asylum seekers.

The cabinet set a goal for 2010 for the Immigration Authority of expelling 22,000 illegal workers, but the authority removed only 2,498 people - only 11% of this goal. The respective numbers for 2009 were 20,000 and 1,261.

But the authors of the research center report say they do not have accurate information on the actual number of illegal workers, making it difficult to estimate their impact on the Israeli labor market.