The Russian technology giant Yandex is mulling relocating some 800 developers from Russia and is looking at the possibility of sending them to Israel or another European country in the wake of the complex legal situation it finds itself following the country’s invasion of Ukraine.
Haaretz has learned that the technology giant, often referred to as “Russia’s Google,” has been in contact with government officials to see whether it can bring such a large number of employees to Israel, and, if so, what would be the right channel to do so. The company has made an unofficial approach to the Population and Immigration Authority and to the Innovation Authority, which provides visas for tech talent.
The war in Ukraine has already led Israel to formulate a policy on taking in non-Jewish Ukrainian citizens from areas affected by the fighting. Since the start of the war non-Jewish Ukrainians entering the country were required to make deposits and provide guarantees that they would leave the country within a month.
Israel's new policy includes quotas for refugees from Ukraine, who before the war were employed by Israeli companies, or for Ukrainians in professions suffering from a shortage of employees in Israel.
Yandex’s case is different as the company wishes to transfer employees to Israel from Russia, not Ukraine. The move could put Israel and its tech sector in a bind.
The idea of transferring employees from Russia has emerged against a backdrop of new issues and challenges faced by the company, which at the moment is not subject to Western sanctions on Russia but is facing boycott initiatives in various countries that want to stop its operations and cut off business ties with it. A senior company official was quoted this week in the Financial Times as saying: “We’re all stunned at what happened. None of us expected that Russia would go to war. The sanctions are coming in fast and hard, and the impact it’s having on our ability to operate is really challenging.”
Yandex operates a development center in Israel and therefore it could bring employees into the country on a hi-tech visa. But transferring employees from Russia to Israel would entail a large number of visa requests - and it is far from certain that all the workers would meet the requirements for a tech visa. For example, a salary that is twice as high as the average in Israel. A tech expert visa provides a permit to work in Israel for a year with the possibility of an extension for up to five years and a work visa for a partner or spouse.
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Yandex, founded by Arkady Volozh, is registered as a Dutch company, but its headquarters are in Russia and its shares are traded on the Moscow Stock Exchange and on Wall Street. The company employs some 18,000 people throughout the world and its development center in Israel employs dozens of people and is primarily focused on autonomous vehicles.
The company also operates a program to train people to work in tech - so-called bootcamps - and operates various consumer services such as taxi services, streaming, deliveries. In Israel it is testing autonomous vehicles and is also planning to launch a cloud service. Yandex owns the most popular search engine in Russia and operates the country’s biggest ecommerce site.
On Thursday, the company notified its investors that it may not be able to meet its debts. The company said this was the result of suspension of its Nasdaq listed shares for more than five days giving holders of the notes the right to redeem the bonds. Trading in the company’s shares along with those of other Russian companies were suspended at the end of February following the invasion of Ukraine and the imposition of sanctions.
The problem is that Russian President Vladimir Putin has prohibited the transfer of foreign currency out of Russia including for payment of foreign debts. Yandex informed investors on Tuesday that it is currently in talks with representatives of its creditors. The company said that two of its directors have resigned their positions and will not be replaced. Last year, Yandex had revenues of $2.6 billion. Its market capitalization currently stands at $6.8 billion after its share price dropped 60% In the last month.
A spokesman for Yandex said: “The company has operated in Israel for several years and operates several technology services including innovative transportation solutions in the world of micro mobility, technology based food deliveries, tech training, and autonomous vehicles. The company's offices are located in Tel Aviv and the company has for some time been looking at expanding its activities by setting up a research and development center in Israel. The company has no plans to transfer its Russian R&D center to Israel.”