During the late 1980s and early 1990s, Israel saw the arrival of agrowing number of migrant workers
. As a result of the closure policy prevalent at the time, which prevented Palestinians from theWest Bank and Gaza Strip from working within Israel, thegovernment acceded to pressure from employers and issued them permits allowing them to bring migrant workers into the country,mainly for construction and agriculture. By the end of 1997, thenumber of migrant workers holding visas was already at 85,000.
Some migrant workers who initially held valid visas have since thenlost this status for various reasons. Workers who “escaped” their employers, either because of disagreements, extreme exploitation, adesire to secure increased earnings on the black market, or variousother reasons will automatically lose their valid visa. In addition tovisa-holding workers, a large number of workers have arrived andhave been working in Israel since the 1990s without visas at all.Most of these workers come from countries in which it is impossibleto obtain an Israeli working visa, such as Latin America, West andSouth Africa and Eastern Europe. All the while Palestinian workershave continued to enter Israel from the Occupied Territorieswhenever the closure is lifted. While some return home at the endof the day, others will stay in Israel for a week or longer. According to figures of the Central Bureau for Statistics,approximately 240,000 migrant workers resided in Israel by the endof the year 2000, including those with visas and those without. Allof the migrant workers discussed here are not eligible for publichealth services, which are provided to Israeli residents
under the National Health Insurance Law (1994).2
This document uses the internationally recognized term“migrant workers.” In Israel, migrant workers are usually referred to as“foreign workers.”3 From: Yitzhak Shanel,
Guidelines for Policy toward ForeignWorkers
, Social Policy Research Center, Jerusalem, 2001 (all workscited are in Hebrew unless otherwise noted
) The employers, andsometimes certain government ministries, refer to these employees as“escapees.”4 The term “resident” is used here in its official sense, whichincludes permanent and temporary residents as well, of course, ascitizens.3