Trapped in Caregiver Limbo

Ronit Gilad is in caregiver limbo. The Filipina woman who cared for her retarded son resigned in June, but she has neither left the country nor registered with a new employer, so the Interior Ministry is refusing to let Gilad hire a new foreign caregiver.

So Gilad has found herself searching for the woman, and caring for her son by herself. She sent out an e-mail to acquaintances, entitled "Do you recognize this woman?" with a photo of the Filipina.

"Many families in Israel are in our situation," writes Gilad, a resident of the Sharon. "They are helpless in the face of the foreign worker who has decided to work illegally for a huge salary, as compensation for the risk."

The Interior Ministry confirms that these are its procedures, and is not bothered that they force Israeli employers to embark on a private manhunt when a foreign worker deserts.

"By law one can employ only one worker," says ministry spokeswoman Sabine Haddad, "and even when the worker resigns or is dismissed, he must leave the country or register under a new employer. That is because as long as the worker is in the country and is not registered under a new employer, he is still registered with the original employer."

This procedure is intended to keep down the number of illegal workers by making sure no more than one worker is registered per visa. The ministry does not explain how Israeli employers are supposed to catch their workers, and who will care for their relatives in the meantime.

Gilad agrees that her personal chase is problematic, but claims she has no choice.

"Childless elderly people manage to find a worker who is already in Israel, because workers don't like to be closely supervised, as happens in families. For families, it is much more difficult to find a new worker. But it is not right to view it as a manhunt. I have no problem with the worker leaving the job, but I want her off my visa. She left because she wanted more money. We paid her minimum wage and she lived like a queen."

Attorney Oded Feller of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, who writes the Hebrew-language blog Laissez Passer, says this Interior Ministry procedure has never been publicized.

"If that really is the policy of the Interior Ministry, it is an extreme twist on a policy that has long since been declared illegal, which the High Court of Justice called 'a modern version of slavery.'

"The High Court ruled in March 2006 that the Interior Ministry cannot bind migrant workers to their employers. Not only has the Interior Ministry failed to implement the ruling, it is exacerbating the policy. Israeli employers must appeal the procedure rather than going out to hunt for their workers."