In response to the war in Ukraine, Israel has decided to grant fast-track entry permits and 90-day work visas to any foreign tech worker who has an employment contract with an Israeli high-tech company.
The program, which is being billed as a pilot, was slated to go into effect on Monday. It will have two tracks – one for workers eligible to immigrate under the Law of Return and one for those who aren’t.
On either track, the workers and their families will receive an entry visa within four days. Those who aren’t eligible to immigrate will then get a 90-day work visa with an option of extending it. Their spouses will receive work visas at an unspecified later date.
People who are eligible to immigrate will be able to start work immediately, as will their spouses, rather than have to wait until their official immigration paperwork is completed.
Currently, a company seeking to bring a foreign tech worker to Israel has to obtain a special visa for expert employees. The visas are issued by the Population and Immigration Authority and the Israel Innovation Authority.
The main criterion for obtaining such a visa is that the foreign worker must be paid at least twice as much as the average wage in Israel. In addition, the company must be recognized as a high-tech company by the Innovation Authority.
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Under the new program, the minimum salary requirement will be canceled, as will the need for the company to be recognized by the Innovation Authority, according to the chairman of the Knesset’s subcommittee on advancing the high-tech industry, Ron Katz (Yesh Atid), who pushed the Immigration Authority to approve the decision. The subcommittee discussed the need for such a program last week.
“The relevant government agencies mobilized rapidly on this issue,” Katz said. “The goal is humanitarian, but Israel will also profit from this move.”
Even though the decision is aimed primarily at Ukrainian professionals who have fled their country or want to do so due to the war, people from other countries can also apply for fast-track visas. The program will enable high-tech companies to bring their existing Ukrainian employees to Israel, but also their existing employees from other countries. In addition, it will enable them to recruit new workers and bring them to Israel as long as they have a signed contract.
The program is the fruit of cooperation between the private and public sectors. Three weeks ago, a venture called The Reboot – Startup Nation was launched by Sophia Tupolev-Luz and Ariella Raviv, both of whom work in high tech. They decided to create a platform that would enable high-tech workers from Ukraine and Russia to contact Israeli tech companies that need workers. The project had a dual goal – providing humanitarian assistance to people in distress while also helping to meet the local industry’s enormous demand for skilled workers.
The venture soon gained momentum and even absorbed other similar ventures. Today it includes 200 Israeli tech companies and 7,000 tech workers from Ukraine and Russia. It is run entirely by some 20 volunteers.
Last week, Tupolev-Luz and one of her colleagues, Tamar Eisenberg Abramson, addressed Katz’s subcommittee and asked it to create a fast track that would enable workers who need to come to Israel to do so. The new pilot program was born of their joint efforts.
“There are 1,000 resumes in our database,” Tupolev-Luz said. “We go over them as well as the list of wanted ads, and if there’s a clear match, we send the resumes to the company. The companies tell us when they do interviews, and some of them have already hired new workers through the venture.”
The Jerusalem-based Lightricks is one of these companies. It is in the process of hiring someone who fled to Armenia with his family due to the war and now wants to come to Israel with them and work.
“He’s already gotten a job offer from us, and today we’re supposed to finalize all the terms,” a company official said. “He works in a field where it’s hard to recruit Israelis, and if he ultimately accepts the offer, in our view, that would be great.”
Tupolev-Luz termed the venture “a step in the right direction,” explaining that “aside from helping people at a time when they need it and the knowledge that they can come to a safe place, this is also important from an economic standpoint – to know that someone is expecting you in the country you’re going to.”