Foreign Workers' Kids: 1,500 to Stay, 800 to Go

Interior Minister: Israel to grant residency to two-thirds of the hids of foreign workers who requested it.

Israel has agreed to grant permanent residency to nearly two-thirds of the children of foreign workers who requested it, Interior Minister Roni Bar-On said Monday at a press conference marking the end of a one-time citizenship campaign.

As a result of the campaign, more than 1,500 people will receive legal standing in Israel. The children of foreign workers who met set criteria, including those who have lived here for six consecutive years and speak Hebrew, became permanent residents and their parents became temporary residents. If the children serve in the Israel Defense Forces, they are entitled to become citizens and their parents can become permanent residents.

"It's inconceivable for us to deport children who don't have another culture, who don't have another language," Bar-On said. "They are participating in the Zionist vision and want to join the army."

The citizenship campaign eased restrictions on the estimated 1,500 children of foreign workers living in Israel, half of whom are at least six years old. Since many of the children grew up here, there has been public opposition to deporting them to countries they may never even have visited.

Bar-On loosened the requirements of the previous government, which decided to allow the children of foreign workers to remain here if they were born in Israel and were at least 10 years old. Those who received permanent residency under the Bar-On campaign did not have to be born in Israel, but had to be turning 6 by September of this year, attend at least first grade in Israel, and arrive in Israel legally when they were younger than 14. They were also not allowed to have a criminal record.

"We have shown the maximum openness," Bar-On said yesterday. "I'm certainly proud of that."

Israel has refrained from deporting families with children while the citizenship campaign was under way. Now that it is over, the government is expected to call on families who are here illegally to leave the country, using the police to pressure them to do so.

There are 700 children of foreign workers under the age of six living here, while a request for permanent residency by 166 children was denied because the Interior Ministry determined they did not meet the criteria.

The Hotline for Migrant Workers said that while it welcomed the ease in restrictions, deporting the children of foreign workers is intolerable.

Too young to be naturalizedThe naturalization program for migrant workers' children brings no good tidings for four-year-old May (Marli) Manar, whose parents - a Ghanaian father and Philippine mother - have no status in Israel.

May's father, Joel Manar, was caught in Haifa last April without a valid work permit, and the Interior Ministry was about to deport him. His arrest had a traumatic effect on May, who had been in his care while her mother had a live-in job elsewhere nursing old people.

Many people were moved by May's story, including Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who intervened to keep Manar in Israel to settle his affairs.

However, neither parent has a permit to stay in the country, which makes it difficult for them to find work, their attorney Tal Proshan says. Meanwhile, the Manars are waiting for a ministerial committee for humanitarian affairs to decide on their case.

May is simply too young to be included in the naturalization program and is still seeing a psychotherapist because of the "severe trauma she suffered due to the abrupt separation from her father," Proshan says.

Little Herzliya's hopesMonday night, Herzliya Kines, 6, was still waiting for the Interior Ministry's reply. Kines was born here, but fell four months short of the requirement for naturalization of having at least six years of residence - one of many borderline cases.

Kines had become symbol of the migrant workers' struggle for naturalization and was invited to a special session of the Knesset's Committee for Children's rights.

Now that the naturalization age was reduced to four years and nine months, Herzliya's request is expected to be approved. However, she has not received the letter and identity card yet.