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6,000 construction workers from India to arrive in Israel in April-May amid labour shortage

These workers will be brought to Israel via an "air shuttle" to help the country's labour shortage amid the ongoing war in the Gaza Strip. An acute shortage of workers has talled several projects, causing concerns about the increasing cost of living.

Edited By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee Jerusalem Published on: April 11, 2024 11:43 IST
Israel, Indian workers, labour shortage, Israel Hamas war
Image Source : PTI (FILE) PM Modi with his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu

Jerusalem: Over 6,000 Indians will be brought to Israel during the period of April and May to help the country's construction sector meet a labour shortage following the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war in October last year. A little over 900 construction workers, including 64 last week, have arrived from India during the last few months through the B2B route, involving human resources agencies in both countries.

These workers will be brought to Israel via an "air shuttle" following a joint decision by the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), the finance ministry and the Construction and Housing Ministry on subsidising charter flights, according to a statement issued by the Israeli government late Wednesday. The construction industry of Israel employs workers in specific fields where there is a lack of Israeli workers.

The Israeli government said this is the largest number of foreign workers arriving in Israel for the construction sector in a short time. "Thanks to the joint financing of the PMO, the finance ministry and the construction and housing ministry, it was agreed approximately one week ago on the arrival of over 6,000 workers from India during April and May on an 'air shuttle' following the subsidising of charter flights," it said.

This came after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened a meeting at the PMO here amid an acute shortage of workers that has stalled several projects, causing concerns about the increasing cost of living and also friction between various government bodies and businesses. The workers from India are being brought to Israel under a government-to-government (G2G) agreement between to the countries.

Why does Israel need construction workers?

Israel entered a war with Hamas after militants stormed southern Israel on October 7 last year, killing 1,200 people and taking over 250 hostages. The largest group of about 80,000 workers came from the Palestinian Authority-controlled West Bank and another 17,000 from the Gaza Strip. However, a majority of them had their work permits revoked after the conflict began. Reports indicated that Israel was looking for at least 100,000 Indian workers to replace the Palestinian workers.

There will be a series of arrivals in the coming weeks, a total of 850 by mid-April. Sources in the construction sector told news agency PTI that more than 20,000 workers from India and Sri Lanka were approved for jobs through screening tests conducted by the Israeli Contractors Association (ICA), but only about 1,000 workers had arrived after three months, blaming "bureaucratic procedures" including obtaining permits.

"The Israeli government has repeatedly reported its intention to speed up these procedures but has not done so," a source claimed and added that all involved stakeholders in Israel are said to have proposed several plans in their discussions with the government to fast-track the process. Most of the selected workers are said to have resigned from their jobs and waiting to receive a visa to work in Israel, the sources further informed.

"The task assigned to us by the government was carried out at a record pace.

It has been weeks since we completed three rounds of selection of workers in which professional approval was given to employ more than 20,000 workers, half of them in the government track and half in the business track," the ICA told PTI last week.

Netanyahu during a telephonic conversation with his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi in December last year had discussed advancing the arrival of Indian workers to Israel. Besides those from India and Sri Lanka, a group of about 7,000 workers have come from China and around 6,000 from Eastern Europe.

Indian workers in Israel

There are about 18,000 Indians working in Israel, mostly as caregivers. Most of them decided to stay back in Israel during the war because "they felt quite secure" and "also because the salaries are quite attractive". However, Israeli Minister of Economy Nir Barkat, during his trip to India in April last year had spoken to officials and his counterpart in Delhi, about hiring 160,000 Indians in various sectors, including in the construction sector.

A statement released by the Israeli Foreign Ministry then had said 34,000 workers would be engaged in the construction sector and another 8,000 for nursing needs. In the last six months, about 800 workers from India have also joined the agricultural sector in Israel. This decision will determine the scope of foreign workers in Israel and an adjustment mechanism in case of severe unemployment in the economy that would affect the employment of Israelis, the statement said.

Masons, painters, electricians, plumbers and some farmers said they were looking for jobs in Israel with some willing to risk going into a conflict zone because they could make five times more money in a year than they would at home. Some of the Indian men at recruitment camps organised in Rohtak city earlier this year that they were aware of the ongoing conflict but were willing to travel and work in Israel for higher wages.

Israel and India also inked an agreement in May last year during the then Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen's visit to New Delhi that will allow 42,000 Indian workers to work in the Jewish state in the fields of construction and nursing, a move that was then seen "to help deal with the rising cost of living and assist thousands of families waiting for nursing care".

(with PTI inputs)

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