Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz recently instructed ministry officials to develop a comprehensive plan for deporting 100,000 illegal foreign workers from Israel within a year.
"What's going on is an outrage," said Steinitz at a meeting a few hours prior to the Passover Seder. "There are a 100,000 people taking jobs illegally while Israelis remain unemployed. The plan must involve painful economic sanctions on those who employ illegal workers."
Currently, an employer hiring illegal workers can be fined up to NIS 100,000 (about $24,000) and Steinitz is interested in doubling this sum.
"The point is to make it fiscally unwise to hire an illegal worker," he told ministry employees. "It is a financial crime. It is not enough merely to deport the workers; we must also hurt the employers."
"We must fight such employers, must look for them, publish their names, indict them - and do it by this year! It is inconceivable that, of the 400,000 foreign workers in Israel, 100,000 of them are illegal and meanwhile unemployment in Israel stands at over 200,000 persons," the new minister said.
As such, the Finance Ministry, along with the Immigration Authority, has set the following goals for 2009: Reducing tens of thousands of illegal workers in Israel; receiving legal assistance from the Justice Ministry to ensure deportation; encouraging the public to understand the severity of hiring illegal workers; strengthening the legal foreign workers in Israel by offering them financial incentive packages; and, as stated, increasing the fines and indictment of employers of illegal workers.
'Respectable employment for Israelis'Steinitz's plan falls in line with the policy of Internal Minister and Shas Chairman Eli Yishai and Immigration Authority Chief Yaakov Ganot.
"Our goal is to make sure that unemployed people in Israel will be able to find respectable employment and that the Israeli public will understand that illegal workers must not be employed," said Ganot, whose organization has recently hired dozens of new workers to enforce this policy.
In 2008, the Immigration Authority conducted fewer initiatives against illegal workers and, as a result, their number in Israel increased significantly. In fact, 2009 is considered a peak year, in terms of numbers of illegal foreigners in Israel.
"The change in economic situation, the increase in lawyers specializing in immigration, the lack of any body to investigate requests for refugee status, public tolerance for hiring illegal workers – all of these have led to the situation today," Ganot explained.
But, he added, things are about to change. "The Finance Ministry has given us many new resources, funds to create an enforcement branch, organized and computerized information to help with inter-government coordination. This year is going to be the turnaround year," he said.