Population Authority: 5,000 Tourists Stay After Visas Expire Annually

Figure includes 90,000 people who entered Israel as tourists, 120,000 migrant workers without permits, 10,000 border infiltrators.

Israel has 250,000 illegal residents, and that number is growing by 2,000 each month, the head of the new Migration and Population Authority told the Knesset Internal Affairs Committee on Tuesday.

The figure cited by authority head Yaakov Ganot includes 90,000 people who entered Israel as tourists, 120,000 migrant workers without permits, and 10,000 border infiltrators. These numbers total only 220,000, but the Interior Ministry provided no explanation for the gap.

Every year, 5,000 tourists overstay their visas, Ganot said. The number of illegal residents of this sort grew from 80,000 in 2005 to 90,400 in 2007.

Between 400 and 500 people infiltrate Israel each month via the southern border, Ganot added.

Tuesday's committee meeting dealt with preparing a bill on illegal residents for its second and third plenum readings. The government-sponsored legislation would require every illegal resident to leave the country for five years as a condition for receiving legal status. The upshot of this is that illegals, including spouses and relatives of Israelis, would have no chance of becoming legal.

Committee chairman Ophir Pines-Paz (Labor) announced at the end of the meeting that the bill would not be approved in its current format, and suggested that the Interior Ministry tone it down and submit a revised version.

Ganot also informed the committee that his authority operates a special unit for investigating the credibility of marriages between Israelis and persons seeking legal standing in Israel. Of the 100 cases investigated to date, 70 were found to be fictitious relations. Ganot said the couples selected for monitoring represented a random sample, not couples suspected from the start.

Pines-Paz lambasted the existence of this unit and its methods, saying: "You know the sort of countries where the Interior Ministry followed people."