The government will allow 1,200 children of foreign workers whose visas have expired to remain in Israel until the end of the school year, next July.
Previously, the government had ruled that the children, most of whom were born and raised in Israel, would have to leave with their families by November 1, but it reversed its decision following a public outcry.
The decision highlights the difficulty of formulating a consistent policy on an estimated 400,000 foreign workers, close to three quarters of whom lack a valid work visa.
The government has decided to remove 100,000 of them over the next three years. Six months ago, it set up a unit of the Interior Ministry, the OZ Unit, to locate and apprehend workers before deportation.
Critics of the policy claim that the workers’ children should be exempted from deportation. They also claim the policy is ineffective. In the last three months, 700 foreign workers were deported after being caught by the OZ unit and another 2,400 left of their own accord.
Around 3,600 new workers were allowed to arrive legally and countless others were smuggled over Israel’s southern border.
The Hotline for Migrant Workers lobby called for the government to stop bringing in new workers instead of acting against those already in Israel. The human rights organisations also claim there is no need to “hunt down” the illegal workers, as three quarters of them leave of their own accord.
This week, a group of residents in south Tel Aviv formed the Campaign to Move Illegal Workers up North. The old-timers in Tel Aviv’s poorer neighbourhoods claim that they suffer the most from the presence of the foreign workers and are demanding that the authorities find homes for them in the city’s more affluent areas.
On Monday they attacked the human rights activists “who all come from Ramat Aviv and don’t have to see the foreign workers in their daily lives”.
Are a million African refugees about to flood Israel?
Israel may be facing a deluge of African refugees crossing its southern border from the Sinai.
A senior IDF officer who briefed a special Knesset sub-committee on foreign workers said that as many as “a million refugees are waiting in Egypt to cross over to Israel”.
The refugees, many of them from war-torn Sudan, pay Bedouin smugglers around £1,500 to get them across the Sinai desert and the border with Israel. In the past three years, at least 20,000 refugees have been caught at the border and an estimated 40,000 managed to get through undetected.
In the past, Israel tried to return the refugees to the Egyptian side of the border but reports of their treatment at the hands of the Egyptian army have changed that policy. They are now held in detention camps until their status can be determined.
“Every night, you can see dozens of them trying to get in,” says an IDF soldier. “If the Egyptians see them first, they open fire and kill them.”
The refugees are attracted to Israel due to their harsh treatment in Egypt. Large parts of Israel’s southern border are not fenced. Many try to reach the Tel Aviv area to find jobs, while others remain in the south.
At least 3,000 are in Eilat, about seven per cent of its population.